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Full text of "THE HOLY BARBARIANS"

973 L76h 

Lipton 

The holy barbarians 



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1148 00301 3182 




THE HOLY 
BARBARIANS 

by Lawrence Upton 




Julian Meaner, Inc. New York 



Published by Julian Mcssner, Inc. 
8 West 40th Street, New York 18 

Published simultaneously in Canada 
by The Copp Clark Publishing 1 Co,, Limited 



Copyright 1959 by Lawrence Lipton 



Printed in the United States of America 
Library of Congress Catalog Card No.; 59-7135 



Venice West Pictnr Essay by Austin Anton, with additiona 
graphs by William Claxton, Harry jRW/ ttnd Robtrt P. Sk*ttst t 
Pictured on the jack&t an paintm John Altoon (left) mti Tony Lw 
with coffeehouse tvaitr&ss Maggto Ryan at the Altoon studio m Lot An 



For Nettie 



WESTPORI JUL 7 1959 



PREFACE 

When the barbarians appear on the frontiers of a civilization it is a 
sign of a crisis in that civilization. If the barbarians come, not with 
weapons of war but with the songs and ikons of peace, it is a sign that 
the crisis is one of a spiritual nature. In either case the crisis is never 
welcomed by the entrenched beneficiaries of the status quo. In the 
case of the holy barbarians it is not an enemy invasion threatening the 
gates, it is "a change felt in the rhythm of events" that signals one of 
those "cyclic turns" which the poet Robinson Jeffers has written about. 

To the ancient Greeks the barbarian was the bearded foreigner who 
spoke an unintelligible gibberish. Our barbarians come bearded and 
sandaled, and they speak and write in a language that is not the 
"Geneva language" of conventional usage. That their advent is not 
just another bohemianism is evident from the fact that their ranks 
are not confined to the young. Moreover, the not-so-young among the 
holy barbarians are not "settling down/' as the nonconformists of the 
past have done. Some of them are already bringing up families and 
they are stitt "beat." This is not, as it was at the turn of the century, 
the expatriates in flight from New England gentility and bluenose cen 
sorship. It is not the anti-Babbitt caper of the twenties. Nor the polit 
ically oriented alienation of the thirties. The present generation has 
taken note of all these and passed on beyond them to a total rejection 
of the whole society, and that, in present-day America, means the bus 
iness civilization. The alienation of the hipsters from the squares is 
now complete. 

Presenting the picture in this way, as a kind of evolutionary, histor 
ical process, I must caution the reader at this point that it is merely a 
preliminary formulation of the picture, a simplification. When I met 
Kenneth Rexroth for the first time in Chicago back in the late twenties 
ho was as beat as any of today's beat generation. So was I. So were 
most of my friends at the time. If some of us remained beat through 



the years and on into the fifties it was because we felt that it was not 
we but the times that were out of joint. We have had to wait for the 
world to catch up with us, to reach a turn, a crisis. What that crisis is 
and why the present generation is reacting to it the way it does is the 
theme of this book. 

I have chosen Venice, California, as the scene, the laboratory as it 
were, because I live here and have seen it grow up around mo. Newer 
than the North Beach, San Francisco, scene or the Greenwich Village 
scene, it has afforded me an opportunity to watch the formation of a 
community of disaffiliates from its inception. Seeing it take form I had 
a feeling of "this is where I came in," that I had seen it all happening 
before. But studying it closely, from the inside, and with a sympathy 
born of a kindred experience, I have come to the conclusion that this 
is not just another alienation. It is a deep-going change, a revolution 
under the ribs. These people are picking up where we left off? no, 
where we began. Began and lived it and wrote about it and waited for 
the world to catch up with us. I am telling their story here because it 
is our story, too. My story. 

LAWRENCE LOTON* 
Venice West, February 9, 1959 



CONTENTS 



PART I 

L Slum by the Sea 15 

2. Biography of Three Beats 44 

3* Venice West; Life and Love Among the Ruins 70 

4. The Loveways of the Beat Generation 90 

5. The Electronic Ear: Some Oral Documents 109 

6. Venice West: And All Points North, South and East 124 

PART II 

7. Down With the Race Race: The New Poverty 147 

8. Cats Possessed: Ritual and the Beat 156 

9. "God's Medicine": The Euphoric Fix 171 

PART III 

10* The New Apocalypse 193 

II. Jazz, the Music of the Holy Barbarians 207 

12* Poetry and Jazz: Love Match or Shotgun Wedding? 216 

13. The Barbarian is at the Gates 226 

PART IV 

14. Lost Generation, Flaming Youth, Bohemian Leftist, 

Boat Generation - Is There a Difference? 263 

15. The Social Lie 293 
Notes 311 
Glossary 315 
Footnotes for Picture Essay 320 
Venice West Picture Essay Follows 320 



The Holy Barbarians 



PART I 



1 



Slum by the Sea 



IT is SUNDAY IN VENICE. NOT THE VENICE OF THE PIAZZA SAN MARCO 
and memories of the Doges. Venice, California, the Venice of St. 
Mark's Hotel where the arched colonnades are of plaster, scaling off 
now and cracked by only a few decades of time, earthquake and decay. 
This is Venice by the Pacific, dreamed up by a man named Kinney at 
the turn of the century, a nineteenth-century Man of Vision, a vision 
as trite as a penny postal card. He went broke in heart and pocket try 
ing to carry Ms Cook's Tour memories of the historic city on the Adri 
atic into the twentieth century. 

The oil derricks came in and fouled up his canals, the Japanese 
moved in and set up gambling wheels and fan-tan games on the ocean 
front, and the imitation palaces of the Doges became flop joints. The 
Venice Pier Opera House, where Kinney dreamed of Nellie Melbas 
warbling arias and Italian tenors singing Neapolitan boat songs, went 
into history instead as the ballroom where Kid Ory first brought New 
Orleans JB.ZZ to the West Coast. And the night air was filled, not with 
the songs of gondoliers, but with air-splitting screams from the roller 
coasters of the Venice Amusement Pier. 

All that remains of Kinney's Folly are a few green-scum-covered 
canals, some yellowing photographs in the shop windows of old store 
keepers who "remember when/* and the PWA mural that decorates 
the Venice Post Office, in which the oil derricks are superimposed on 

15 



16 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

the colonnades in a montage that is meant to be at once ironical and 
nostalgic. As for the Doges, the Doges of Venice are a gang whose 
teen-age members sometimes scribble the name on fences, smear it on 
shopwindows and even carve it into walls and bus seats, defacing pri 
vate property and earning themselves the epithet of juvenile delinquents. 

The sea-rotted Venice Amusement Park Pier has long ago been torn 
down, leaving a land's end, waterfront slum where there was once a 
fashionable resort, then a wide-open gambling town, then a wartime 
furlough spot for the sailors of the Pacific fleet and, till a few years 
ago, a bonanza for bingo operators. 

Civic virtue, domiciled far away in hotel suites and suburban ranch 
houses, closed the bingo games. The luxury hotels along the beach 
front promenade, too costly to tear down at present-day wrecking 
prices and not profitable enough to warrant proper upkeep and repair, 
stand like old derelicts, their plush and finery faded and patched. In 
their dim lobbies sit the pensioned-aged playing cards and waiting for 
the mailman to bring the next little brown envelope. Pension How. 
Slum by the sea. Two, even three, one-story houses on a narrow lot, 
airless and lightless in a paradise of air and light. Night-blooming jas 
mine amidst the garbage cans. 

To this area of Los Angeles, as to similar areas of other largo cities, 
have come the rebellious, the nonconformist, the bohemian, the deviant 
among the youth. An unrentable store, with its show windows curtained 
or painted opaque, becomes a studio, A loft behind a lunchroom or 
over a liquor store becomes an ideal "pad" where you can keep your 
hi-fi going full volume at all hours of the night with no neighbors ty 
complain. If you're a UCLA student shacking up with a girl friend, 
for love or just to save on the rent, you can find hero a ramshackle 
three- or four-room cottage "in the back," preferably administered by 
a bank for some estate or by an agent for some absentees owner. As 
long as you are prompt with your rent payments no questions will be 
asked. As likely as not your neighbors will be Mexican-Americans who 
will not complain about your bongo drums as long as you do not 
complain about their three-families-ina-four-room shack, seven- 
children-two-dog noise fests and their Saturday night all-night open- 
house drunk parlies. If you can't sleep you're welcome to join them, 
but the chances are you won't because youll bo noising It up in your 
own pad, with your Chamber Jazz Quartet record offering poor deeiblo 



SLUM BY THE SEA 17 

competition to their television Hit Parade. Nobody is going to call the 
cops because they'll only drink up your liquor and make a pass at your 
women, and besides, they're too busy rounding up winos to clean up 
the drunk tank and the jail cells on Monday morning, taking the strain 
off the paid labor and saving the taxpayers* money. 

The aged and the young. And the misfits. All the misfits of the world 
the too fat and the too lean, the too tall and the too short, the jerk, 
the drip, the half-wit and the spastic, the harelip and the gimp. All the 
broken, the doomed, the drunk and the disillusioned herding to 
gether for a little human warmth, where a one-room kitchenette is an 
apartment and the naked electric bulb hangs suspended from the 
ceiling like an exposed nerve. 

Here, working couples with children find the run-down apartments 
and tumble-down shacks that the realtor has to offer. To them, too, it 
is Land's End. After being turned away in other parts of town with 
"No children, no pets," they stagger finally into Ocean Park and 
Venice, foot-sore or with an empty gas tank, ready to rent anything 
with four walls and a roof, even if the walls are paper-thin and the 
roof leaks and the toilet is stuffed up. "Wait till you see how I'll fix it 
up," says the wife with a tired little smile, and Dad has visions of 
puttering around Sunday morning with a paint brush and turning this 
time-rotted ruin into the American Dream Home of the magazine 
color pages. 

The young who come here have no such dreams. The aged, living 
in the sealed-in loneliness of their television sets, will leave them 
alone. The working couples, fatigued after a night on the graveyard 
shift at nearby Douglas Aircraft, will nod over their beer and listen to 
the jukebox in the waterfront taverns. If books, painting or music, or 
all-night gab fosts are more important to the young than the mop and 
dishrag, nobody will read them any lectures on neatness in a neighbor 
hood where it is no crime to leave the beds unmade and two days' 
dishes in the sink. Nobody will turn to stare at beards and sandals or 
dirty Levfs on the beach where a stained sweat shirt or a leather 
jacket is practically formal dress. 

Venice, U.S.A. Venice West, a horizontal, jerry-built slum by the 
sea, warm under a semitropical Pacific sun on a Sunday afternoon. 

The doorbell rings. The regular week-end invasion has begun: all 
the impatient young-men-in-a-huixy, the lost, the seekers, the beat, the 



18 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

disaffiliated, the educated, diseducated, re-educated, in quest of a new 
vision; visitors from all over America passing through and stopping 
off to dig the Venice scene or come to hole in for a while in a Venice 
pad; young girls in flight from unendurable homes in other, fancier, 
parts of town, hiding their fears behind a mask of defiance, or trying 
to look "cool" or act "beat"; Hollywood writers dropping in to refresh 
their souls, hoping, perhaps, that some of the creative energy of ded 
icated artists will somehow rub off a little on them, maybe to do a 
little brain-picking, too, something they can turn into The Big Money; 
squares from Beverly Hills and San Fernando Valley ranch type houses 
looking for the shock of nonconformism, which is their own kind of 
"kick," or on the make for girls; newsmen and radio people on the 
prowl for "experience," or just plain hungry for a taste of intellectual 
honesty and artistic integrity, a kind of go-to-church-Simday soul bath; 
ex-Communists with every kind of ideological hang-over coming to 
argue themselves out of something or into something or back to some 
thing; politicals, apoliticals, pacificts; interviewers coming to interview 
and interviewees coming to he interviewed; silent ones who come to sit 
and listen, to "dig" the talk and the jazz and stay to cat, and listen 
some more and sit, just sit, till everybody else has gone and they can 
explode in a torrent of pent-up talk about themselves, their lives, their 
loves, their despairs, or make a quick touch; and always the parade of 
weekday office and factory workers, Sunday refugees from the rat race, 
panting for a little music and poetry in their lives, hoping to meet "the 
one" who will lift them out of the quiet desperation in which they 
move. And the poets . . . and the painters . . . and the camp followers 
of the Muse freeloading and tailchasing on the lower slopes of Parnas 
sus. . . . The clowns, the make-believers, the self-deceivers and the 
mad. The talented mad. Like *ltchy >? Golden who was gentle and 
innocent mad. Or Chuck Bennison who was make-believe raact Or 
"AngeF Dan Davies who was ecstatic, self-righteous mud* * - - 

"All raging and sniffy and crazy-wayed 9 " 

Angel Davies was the first to drop in that Sunday, Ho stood there 
swaying for a moment when I opened the door, head thrust forward, 
with that sideways weaving motion of his like a wrestler sparring for 

holds* He wore his shy, angelic smile. This was evidently hfa clay to 



SLUM BY THE SEA 19 

come on like a raging angel, demanding to be loved or be damned to 
you. With a nod for his only greeting, he hunched in, laid a binderful 
of poems on the floor and sat down with his arms hung loose like a 
relaxed chimpanzee. Weaving and waiting. 

I put a Charley Bird Parker record on and let it spin for a while, 
opening a three-way circuit of communication. It was a ritual. I lay 
down and waited for the magic circle to form, closing the circuit. This 
time Bird made it for us. Sometimes it was necessary to make two or 
three tries Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, once I even had to go all 
the way back to Bessie Smith for the magic spark. Angel leaned back, 
closed his eyes with a postcoital sigh and began to talk. 

"The body finds the foods it needs, Larry, and so does the soul. Cole 
ridge needed opium and Wordsworth needed Nature. Nature would 
not have written Kubla Kahn for Coleridge and opium would not have 
written the Intimations of Immortality for Wordsworth. They found 
what they needed. Now, what made them need these things and at 
what point in their development it could have been changed that I 
don't know. But there came a point where it couldn't be changed. 
There came a point where you couldn't say about Bird, "Too bad he's 
on horse, too bad he's got satyriasis, too bad he's a lush, too bad he's 
trying to kill himself.' There came a point where you couldn't even 
say, Too bad he's dead/ Because that's what he needed. He sought 
it and found it. And the same thing with Dylan Thomas." 

"Would you settle for their final end if you could perform what they 
performed would you make such a bargain?" 

*Tm willing to settle for any end, for myself, if I can make it that 
way, like, you know, that's just part of the bargain, There is no choice. 
The choice, at some indefinable point, was made to attempt the per 
formance. Whatever end is implicit in the attempt is chosen at that 
time, I have a recurring image of my end, and I have always been 
obsessed; I have seen myself, my horror image of my end, and I don't 
think it is something that is going to happen, but if you say to me, 
'What's the worst way you could end up?* then I see myself as Maxwell 
Bodenheim. And before I even knew he existed I saw myself on Skid 
Row, I mean the end was . . . this is ... and , . . if this is true, if that 
horror imago is true of me, like if that's where I'm going to end up the 
way I'm going, well that's where I'm going to end up. It's horrifying, it 
really gives me ickios, but if it's part of it, if it really is, there's BO 



20 THE HOLY BAKBARIANS 

choice. And that's similar, I guess, to the way Bird ended, I mean it's 
equivalently ickie. So I guess, yes, I would accept it but not to do 
what they did, because I don't want to write poetry like Dylan 
Thomas', but he wanted to so he accepted it. The end is implicit in 
the beginning, Larry, that's all" 

I remembered Kenneth Rexroth telling about the last time he saw 
Bird Parker. It was at some pretentious jazz concert. "He was so gone 
so blind to the world that he literally sat down on me before he 
realized I was there. 'What happened, man?' I said. 'Evil, man, evil/ he 
said, and that's all he said for the rest of the night. About dawn he got 
up to blow. The rowdy crowd chilled into stillness and the fluent 
melody spiraled through it." The way it was spiraling through us at 
this moment from the record of "Slim's Jam." And I remembered Allen 
Ginsberg telling me about the time Gregory Corso sneaked into the 
hospital at midnight and sat by Dylan Thomas' bed watching him 
die, till the nice, efficient, antiseptic nurses caught him at it and shooed 
him out. 

And I thought of my own answer to the same loaded question, "Why 
did they do it, did it do anybody any good?" ~ meaning, "Wouldn't 
they have done better to join a party or sign protests and petitions 
against the Bomb?" My answer: "When the Bomb drops it will find us 
writing poems, painting pictures and making music/' By which I 
meant, I suppose, pretty much the same thing that Rexroth meant 
when he wrote, apropos of Bird and Dylan, "Against the ruin of the 
world, there is only one defense the creative act" 

Tanya had come in by the back cloor and now slue came out of the 
kitchen where she was helping my wife prepare some food. Tanya 
Bromberger, pink pants and silver toenails, a chick with free-wheeling 
hips and no cover charge I must have been thinking of Tanya when 
I wrote those lines from my poem on Bird Parker. Tanya had over 
heard our conversation about the Bird. She had never known the Bird 
but she knew nearly everybody who ever worked with Bird Not that 
sex was all she had to offer jazz musicians. She had told me once; "The 
only chance for a woman to establish a genuinely good relationship 
with these guys is to genuinely share their enthusiasm for the music. 
Just on her sex she can't do it. You can't make it that way/" Tuny a 
knew her music. But it was pot we were talking about now pod, if 



SLUM BY THE SEA 21 

you want to be fancy about it, but every user I know calls it pot. Pot 
and horse. Every conversation about Bird inevitably leads to a dis 
cussion of heroin and booze and sex. Tanya knew a lot about all of 
these things. And on sex she was Einstein and Colette rolled into one, 
if Einstein doesn't mind. Maybe neither of them minds now. 

"Most junkies have very little sex drive/' Tanya said flatly. "As 
Negroes and musicians say, It takes your nature away/ that's what they 
say. It takes away the sex drive and it renders them impotent, so that 
a lot of them go in for deviations, what people might call, quote, per 
version, unquote, like oral copulation. So much of their life is spent 
just trying to get the drug, or trying to get the money to get the drug, 
that what little is left usually goes to music and very little to sex or 
anything else." 

Angel got up and wandered off into the kitchen to put on his little- 
boy-hungry act with Nettie, which was always good for an outsize 
sandwich at least, with all the trimmings. Tanya slid off the chair onto 
the floor, working her way over to the divan where I lay, talking all the 
way and balancing a beer and a cigarette with one hand. 

"Like Tex you remember Tex when he was here with the Ray 
Cullen band he was no good when he was all tore up, like when he'd 
just fixed or something, but between fixes, coming down, he was good, 
one of the best sex partners I ever had. I met him through a musician 
friend of mine who was at the time a heroin addict and one of my very 
best friends, a wonderful person, I mean we were just like this 9 ' with 
the thumb of one hand in the fist of the other and that throaty laugh 
of hers that always went with the gesture "and they were going to 
make a joint purchase you can buy the stuff cheaper in quantity 
and Tex had xny friend's car and so he was stranded at Tex's motel in 
Hollywood. And ho asked me would I drive over and pick him up. And 
by the time I got there Tex had brought the car back and my friend 
had left so I was alone? with Tex who I had met a coupla nights pre- 
vicmsly, you know, just how do you do, when I was out with a gambler 
and pimp friend of mine who's also a jazz fan and he likes to smoke 
pot and opium when ho can get it. So I reminded him that I had 
met him the other night and we got to talking and he asked me if I 
had a car and I said, yeah, and he asked me would I drive him down 
to the club in about an hour/" 



22 THE HOLY BABBABJANS 

Tanya paused just long enough to take a drag on the cigarette and 
a gulp of beer out of the can, all with the trick five-finger manipula 
tion that she "brought off so well. 

"I said yes and so the way it started out his treatment was a little 
condescending- chicks, you know, they have a tendency to be a little 
condescending especially with women, like there are a lot of white 
women who have a musician craze on, you know, without any real 
feeling or understanding of the music, and so I felt a little of that 
condescension but it didn't bother me. I was just relaxed and we 
talked and I drove him down to the club and always I make an attempt 
to be very truthful and be very much myself with these people. Bullshit 
they see through and they're not interested in it. And so I just would 
say what I thought about most anything and usually it takes them 
aback and they're a little surprised at the unconventionality of it or 
something and yet they feel drawn to you, too, I don't remember what 
we talked about but whatever it was it evoked some interest in him 
so when we got there he said, 'Hey, come on in and have a coupla 
drinks;" 

Angel was back with a Poor Boy sandwich crammed in his mouth, 
dropping crumbs all over the place and still playing his small-boy- 
hungry act. He sprawled out full length on the floor and started 
sketching Tanya and me on a big drawing pad of mine that he'd 
picked up off the end table. Angel took all the arts for Ms province, 
except the art of dance and maybe ceramics., though you couldn't over 
be sure about Angel; he'd try anything if only for kicks, and besides, 
what was it about any art except to just cut m and blow, man, just 
blow. If a little mayonnaise dripped onto the paper you just rubbed it 
into the drawing with a deft thumb crazy, man, crazy* 

Tanya was too wound up in her story to notice anything, **So 1 went 
in and wound up staying till two o'clock in the morning. And during 
the course of the evening someone came tip to him and asked for some 
dolophenes which are kick pills to alleviate the discomfort of being 
without heroin when you're sick. And I said, *Oh ? you got some dolo 
phenes, let me have one/ and he said, 'Do you need it?* and 1 said, 
*No, I don't, I just like to take them for kicks now and then, I get a 
crazy high off of them/ and in the meantime he'd seen mo go into my 
purse a couple of times after bennies and I'd given him somo bennies 
and he gave me a dolophene and as the evening wore on wo wore just 



SLUM BY THE SEA 23 

sort of closer and closer and more friendly in our conversation. And 
at two o'clock he asked me to drive him back to his motel and I did 
and then three or four musicians came by and there was some heroin 
there and they proceeded to fix up in the bathroom to get straightened 
and we were just talking mostly about music and musicians and the 
ideas I expressed agreed almost completely with their own feelings. 
And these people are very partisan. There's a terrific resentment among 
them against the commercial jazz musicians. They feel their music is 
the right music, the good music, and I happen to agree with them so 
we got along real well. Pretty soon everybody left and it was about 
four o'clock in the morning." 

I looked over to where Angel was scrawling and smearing like 

crazy on the drawing pad, his head and shoulders weaving back and 

forth to appraise the effects. He was sitting up yogi fashion now and 

sort of jabbing at the paper and slashing at it; the half-eaten sandwich 

was on the floor beside him and he was picking at it with smudged 

fingers and sucking the mayonnaise off of them in an ecstacy of art, 

lox and salami, grunting and groaning as he worked away at it. Tanya, 

feeling that my attention was wandering, moved up closer to the divan, 

laid her head on the covers and tugged gently at my leg as she talked. 

"There were twin beds there, so I asked Tex if he'd mind if I stayed 

over instead of making the long trip home and went to work from 

there, and he said "Not at all/ and so he got out a pair of pajamas. I 

put them on in the bathroom and came strolling out and this guy like 

he had just fixed, you understand, and by all logic he should be 

knocked out, cooling he was pacing around the room like a caged 

animal, tense. And he said, 1 don't know how to figure you out. You're 

a weird girl/ This is what everybody tells me, you're a weird girl. And 

I said, 'There's nothing to figure out," and then he starts asking me, 

'Let me get in that bed and eat you up/ and I said, *Ah, some other 

time, I'm tired, if s late/ and I was really tired, like I just wasn't in the 

mood right at that moment. But I liked him, I liked him real well So 

finally after much fidgeting and tossing and turning he settled down 

and we both went to sleep in our respective beds." 

"Make with a halo around her head," I said in Angel's direction, but 
I was only kidding and she knew I was kidding. Angel paid no atten 
tion to my remark nor to Tanya's bite of mock punishment on my bare 
leg. (It was a hot afternoon and I was in my shorts.) Angel's lack of 



24 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

humor is as complete as that of a newly canonized martyr in an early 
Christian painting. The nearest he ever gets to it is a smile, and that's 
usually a smile of pity or condescension or the small-boy-hungry smile 
of utter helplessness. He saves his rare laugh for the exultant, bellig- 
erant Mr. Hyde side of him, and then it's startingly out of proportion 
to its source, like a mouse laboring and bringing forth a mountain. 

1 wasn't playing hard to get," Tanya went on, in a purely rhetorical 
disclaimer, "and, like Tin not modest, either, dig? and in the morning 
when I changed from his pajamas I dressed right in front of him and 
all that, which doesn't stem from just a lack of modesty but also I 
think I was trying to titillate or stimulate him, too. I'm honest enough 
to admit that. And we started running around together after all, he 
didn't have a car and I started driving him to his connections to pick 
up heroin. I had sex with him the second night. On the way down. 
Also it turned out that his connection was somebody I knew, an old 
friend of mine who had been in jail abotit five years, and when it 
turned out I knew this guy, well, it sort of heightened my prestige 
with him, that I was no square by any means. About the second day I 
was with him he offered me a fix did I want to do tip? and I said 
no. He never approached me about it again. One time at my apart 
ment he took an overjolt and passed out, I was a little concerned about 
him after a while, so I went into the bathroom and there lie was 
slumped over on the floor with his head against the tubj knocked out, 
bloody syringe on the floor, dirty spoon in the sink and all that, so I 
cleaned everything up and got it all stashed away and got him over 
onto the bed, and he was so grateful the next day, he was just gassed, 
no recriminations, no criticisms." 

Nettie came in with glasses of cold lemonade and some sandwiches, 
so it was catch-as-catch-can on the floor, end tables and divan, while 
Angel labored over the drawing pad, now enriched with the drippings 
of lemonade, and Tanya went on with her story, with Nettie now for 
an added listener. Was Tex married? Nettie wanted to know. 

"He's got a couple of wives back east and some? children and a law 
suit with some minor girl," Tanya explained between moutlifuls of 
tomato and avocado sandwich, "but he wanted to run away from it all 
and stay in California and live with me. But it sort of petered out by 
the end of the two weeks he was here and he went up to San Fran 
cisco he wanted me to go up to Frisco with him but I said no. He 



SLUM BY THE SEA 25 

was embroiled in other things and I was reluctant to keep up that 
tight of an association because he was pushing heroin to other musi 
cians and there was this constant traffic and I felt it was just too close 
and that I would eventually get busted. So we parted real good friends 
and IVe never seen him since." 

THeat, Beard and Sandals 

Angel Dan Davies had a problem. When his unemployment insur 
ance payments had ended some weeks before and he had to start 
looking for a new gig, he tried to make it with the beard, instead of 
shaving it off as he had always been obliged to do before. After a few 
turndowns "and the ad kept running in the papers, so I knew it must 
be the beard, like, what else could it be, man?" he tried trimming it 
a little, then, as the turndowns continued, a little more, till he finally 
shaved it all off and landed a job as a shipping clerk. Now that three 
weeks had elapsed and the boss showed no sign of firing him for 
goofing on the job or showing up late for work or any of the other 
infractions that go with poetry writing, jazz and pot into the early 
morning hours, he was letting the beard grow again, and the boss was 
beginning to notice and look at him "with that look, dig?" and a 
new crisis was in the making. 

"Like, it isn't just the beard, Larry, it's the pressure of conformity, 
it's Who says I cant have a beard if I want it? or sandals if I want to 
wear them on the gig like who would? you could get your toes 
chopped off if one of those boxes ever fell on them it's a matter of 
utility, shoes, but a beard . . . who the hell cares if I tote boxes and 
shipping crates with a beard? Is it as if the customers might ask ques 
tions, me stuck back there in that black hole of a shipping room off the 
alley and never seeing anybody except truck drivers, so whafs the 
big crime, what the hell difference should it make to that square? So 
I'm thinking is it worth it, the gig, I mean? Or do I start trimming 
again, or settle for just the mustache like I did on that godawful car- 
selling gig, that I lost anyway when I didn't shuck the customers 
enough to please the crook who was running the car lot. I mean when 
does it end ?" 

"I don't know/' I said, "How did it begin?" 

"Begin? You mean my beard?" 



26 THE HOLY BABBAKIANS 

"Yes, your beard. How, when did you first happen " 

"Oh, that, sure, 111 tell you when. Very simple. The first beard I 
started was for the Seder, the first Seder away from home, in my own 
home, like I was very religious at the time and it was a kind of ritual, 
you might say, and then I had to go out and look for a gig and I found 
I had to shave it" 

"You were conforming with an ancient Jewish religious custom, isn't 
that right? So it wasn't nonconformism but conformism that started 
you on your first beard." 

"Right. So it isn't conformism or nonconformism the squares are 
worried about so what is it? Don't tell me let me think. It's what 
they associate it with at the time. Right now beards are being worn by 
young people who reject the rewards of the goddamn dog-eat-dog 
society, who hole up in pads in the slums and listen to jazz music all 
night and get high on pot and violate all their sexual taboos and show 
up late for work in the morning or stay home all day if they've got a 
poem eating away at them to get itself written or a picture to be 
painted. It's putting all these other tibings first man! That's what 
scares the shit out of them " 

The doorbell rang again, and it was Itchy Gclden standing at the 
door, peering in, fidgeting and scratching his crotch. "Like I don't want 
to bug you man, if you're busy. ... I could come back later " He 
caught sight of Angel and Tanya. "Hi, what's cookin? Are we gonna 
blow some poetry, maybe?" 

He knew it was Sunday, open house. This was just his way of play 
ing shy, humble, the half-welcome guest. He shambled in, mumbling 
his little high-pitched murmurs, half-words, more for sound than 
meaning, and sat down quietly in a cool comer. Itchy scratched be 
cause he had no skin; he was open to the world as a turtle without a 
shell, sensitive to all the world's hurt and all die world's love. Naked 
to the world, winter and summer, in the briefest of shorts and splayed 
sandals, scrubbed clean by wind, water and sand, ha was forever 
scratching away at himself like a louse-eaten crumbum, Dylan Thomas 
is said to have clawed away at himself that way. A fellow poet writing 
shortly after Dylan's death, and perhaps prone to oversentimcntalize 
it a bit, explains his constant scratching as a gesture of protest against 
the limitations of the flesh; he pictures Dylan trying to got under his 



SLUM BY THE SEA 27 

own skin to the soul, the Self, a Hamlet gesture. What it might signify 
in Itchy Gelden I was to learn only gradually. 

All snap judgments about Itchy were misleading. Who would have 
guessed, for instance, as he sat there limp and droopy, that he would 
suddenly come up with: 

"It's like this, man, we need more awareness of the I. It's like be 
fore I light up I'm drug with the ten thousand things. Instead of hav 
ing this fractured awareness of it, like I'm here but I'm somewhere 
else too, wherever this one wants me or that one wants me. When 
you re looking at the present it's got to go into the past in order to get 
meaning, into the memory, into the network. So there's an alternation 
of being here and being there. If the alternation, if the pulsation is 
fractured, it begins to get static in it that's what I mean you can't 
concentrate, because concentration merely means that you follow the 
song of yourself. You're listening and you're hearing the song and 
you're swinging along with it, whether it's e-m-c-squared of the Bird 
trying to make the magic circle." He was making a reference to some 
lines of mine about Bird Parker 

I think he saw in four discrete dots 
The corners of a square and tried to find 
A central fifth round which to swing 
The magic circle 

For music was Dave Gelden's bread and meat, as pot was the breath 
of Mfe to him. "Like that's the scene, man. I'm a network. I'm a moving 
network of nerve endings. And jazz music gives forms to my mind, 
forms in sound, and I feel it's better than any psychoanalyst, because 
art is a healer, that's a part of its function, it's a connected universe, 
just like the words we formed out of the grants and hollers, it organizes 
my universe for mo -that's healing, integrating, communicating. And 
pot is like, well, it makes you aware, aware of the present, you come 
alive, you got eyes for the scene, man, and ears to hear with -like 

most of the time were listening but we're not hearing, man " 

I said, "The mystics talk about going into another plane of existence." 

"But I'd want to be able to come back, every time. Back to this life, 

with all its tasoluaUe problems" - this from Angel Dan Davies, who 



28 THE HOLY BARBABIANS 

had laid aside the sketch pad now and was rummaging through my 
record racks for something to listen to. "Like I want to take peyote, 
which, if it does what it is said to do, you go to a plane of existence 
where you leave these problems behind you, and I want to take peyote 
and I want to see what it's like there, but I want to come back " 

"Back to the insoluable problems?" 

"That's right. I get my kicks behind those problems, Larry. I enjoy 
them. It doesn't horrify me that there's no answer to these problems." 

"What happens when you take one of these problems and put it into 
a poem, with all your perplexities, do you feel that when you've written 
it out for yourself in a poem what does it do for you?" 

"It takes i^e to a plane of existence where these problems no longer 
exist or maybe I should say, where these problems no longer matter. 
That's where I am after I finish a poem. I'm postorgasmic." 

I remembered Dylan Thomas' answer to much the same question 
"My poetry is, or should be, useful to me for one reason: it is the 
record of my individual struggle from darkness towards some measure 
of light," and "Whatever is hidden should be made naked. To be 
stripped of darkness is to be clean," and his statement that the poem is 
that moment of peace when the inner struggle is resolved, but momen 
tarily only. 

Angel Davies was insisting that he was not merely willing to return 
to the struggle, but would have it no other way. Perhaps Dylan would 
have given the same answer if he'd been pressed, For ho did return to 
the struggle again and again, till he couldn't make the creative scene 
any more and, like a pregnant woman long past her time and in un 
availing labor no one has ever devised a Caesarean for poets he 
died of it. 

Some say it was the booze that finished him; some say it was women, 
"the old ram rod, dying of bitches," as he says in his 1 poem Lament 
The old easy answers. But whatever it is that finally finishes a poet, 
most poets are agreed that what triggers a poem may bo any one or a 
combination of these things booze, narcotics, women, Edgar Lee 
Masters, in his poem Tomorrow is My Birthday, "quotes" Shakespeare 
as saying just before lie died that if ho had a virgin in her teens instead 
of old Anne at home keeling her pots, he could go on to write plays 
that would eclipse everything he had already done, plays that would 



SLUM BY THE SEA 29 

be the wonder of the world. I mentioned the poem and Angel's com 
ment was: 

"Oh, yeah, I know just what he meant. If he had a swinging piece 
of ass to lay he could really write." 

"He'd really swing. Would it make you swing?" 

"Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't" He paused, sat down 
to think it over for a minute, then said slowly, thoughtfully; "I've been 
in a kind of quiet period now, the past few weeks I've written not 
very much, just a few things, and Margot and I have been making the 
wildest sexual scene of our marriage." 

"You don't think the other chick Rhonda entered into that 
equation, do you?" 

"No, because I was writing behind that scene, with her. That was 
stimulating me to writing. I wrote a lot." 

"Do you connect the two, possibly that you sought the one in order 
to achieve the other? That has a bearing on the problem that Edgar 
Lee Masters raised about Shakespeare." 

"I sought the one Rhonda because I sought a kind of love that 
I knew I needed, and not just to write." 

Tanya srnelled moral censure and leapt to his defense. The poet 
wasn't like other men. He was entitled to a change of venue whenever 
he felt he needed it which I punned into a change of Venus, or 
venery and there was a laugh all around, except for Angel to whom 
nothing is a laughing matter, least of all where he is concerned. 

"No, M he insisted, "the poet is no more entitled to a change of sex 
partners than anybody else. It's a question of the value of monogamy. 
And that's a question I just can't answer again. All the important 
questions arc unanswerable at least I can't answer them. I say yes, 
by all means, nothing is better than a monogamy that's functioning. 
Maybe what Masters meant Shakespeare's no longer worked. And 
I know this feeling. When this is true then the drive is always outside 
the relationship, because every human being seeks love, the poet maybe 
more so than others, yes, he's more conscious of his need for love." 

"Does that mean that he's more justified?" 

"He may be more driven, but I don't think that he's more justified, or 
unjustified. Like it's a problem I can't give a solution to, but it happens. 
I always say one thing about this it happens, face it, don't lie about 



30 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

it Try to make it with one woman, monogamously, but when the drive 
takes you out of it, go, but don't lie, and don't hide it from yourself or 
from your partner. Whatever happens has to be accepted. It's not a 
solution, it's like a neurosis, it's a crutch that breaks. It's that kind of 
a solution, it's a sick solution." 

Angel had his halo on, his martyr's halo, and lay back, eyes closed, 
arms outspread to receive the nails in his palms. It was Tanya's cue to 
enter the scene as Mary Magdalen before the conversion. 

"Like I love sex, and I don't see why anybody has to feel justified or 
unjustified about it, and, like the poet is only doing what anybody 
should do if he or she feels like it if it's the honest, inner, felt thing 
to do. Anything else is dishonest, I think. Most often it's the mono* 
gamous relationship that's dishonest if all the love has gone out of 
it, and all the sex satisfaction. What's so holy about it then? I mean 
like they say lioly wedlock.' Isn't that what we're all trying to get away 
from, like you always say, the Social Lie? And when it happens, like 
Dan says, it should be open. When I started having my first extramar 
ital affair I did it openly, right in front of my husband that was 
Richard, my second husband with a friend of his, a white fellow that 
he knew. Long before that I had a feeling that we ought to split up, I 
was getting that urge to be free and independent and alone again. I 
discovered I was pregnant. I worked up until two weeks before the 
baby was born, we were so awfully poor. Richard had all these books 
in the house, every wall from floor to ceiling, every room he was 
supposed to be in this book business, but he just couldn't bring himself 
to actually sell any of them I found that out, like he loved books and 
he just couldn't sell them. And so we fought over that, and anyway, 
things were getting more and more hostile every day, the pressures 
were mounting. I wanted to get out of there and I didn't know what I 
could do. By that time Kathy was a year old and I felt that terrible 
trapped feeling that there was no way out, I felt that if I leave and I 
leave this baby I'll be miserable all my life, so therell be no happiness 
for me. If I stay I'm miserable. So I tried to kill myself and the baby* 
I was going to turn the gas on. And Richard came home. I had made a 
panicky phone call to him where I thought he might be and left a 
message before that, as a lot of suicides do, because they don't really 
want to die. And so he came home and he said, If you're that disturbed 
I think you should go to a mental hospital, and I agreed. Ho admits 



SLUM BY THE SEA 31 

now it was a bluff with him, that he felt they would tell me I was just 
overemotional and feeling sorry for myself, laugh at me and send me 
home. Actually, they encouraged me to sign myself in. So I spent three 
months in the County Hospital, in the experimental ward where they 
keep only twenty patients at a time they're hand-picked and I 
never went back to Richard after I came out of the hospital." 

She looked over to where Nettie had settled down to her knitting 
expecting, probably hoping, to encounter some expression or at least 
a lifted eyebrow hint of reproof from that quarter Nettie was, for 
Tanya, a symbol of placid wifely domesticity which she envied, pitied 
and despised by turns. All she saw was patient attentiveness, even 
sympathy. Itchy Gelden had been taking it all in but he just sat there 
nodding, whether in agreement or to some inner voice, who could tell, 
now or ever? Angel was still nailed to the cross. It was up to me, so I 
asked Tanya if the psychiatrists at the County Hospital had tried read 
ing her any moral lectures. 

"No," she said. "Not to go back to my husband and baby, or any 
thing. Not a word about sex or pot or even heroin, which I'd toyed 
with one time I mean I tried it but didn't become addicted. This 
wasn't the first time I'd had psychiatry, but this one was the first that I 
established any rapport with. Yd had one in Chicago, and three out 
here. The first time was when I was fourteen, my family took me to a 
clinic to try and find out the cause of my violent migraine headaches, 
and the doctors came to the conclusion they were psychogenic in origin." 
Nettie spoke up to ask if the headaches had stopped and when. 
"After I went to the hospital this last time," Tanya said. "I haven t 
had any in two years. I found out what it was. Anger. That I was afraid 
to vent. I was venting it on myself, actually. And then the second time 
I went to the psychiatrist was when the Community Chest forced me 
to, when I asked them for help. That was when I first came out here 
I was so poor and it was before Korea and there weren't any jobs. And 
they found out I was going around with a Negro motorcycle rider and 
figured I must be crazy. And one of the terms of getting assistance was 
that I submit myself to their psychiatric clinic. I got into a couple of 
violent arguments with the psychiatrist and stopped going. I horrified 
him and he couldn't conceal it. He wanted to straighten me out. And 
then, the third time, I went to a private psychiatrist shortly before I 
went to the hospital I knew I was sick and needed help so I went to 



32 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

this guy in Beverly Hills that the obstetrician recommended. I couldn't 
afford to pay him. And I got angry at him because of the money. I felt, 
you know, You bastard, you don't really care about me or why else 
would you want fifteen dollars an hour? and so I couldn't go on with it. 
But here in the county I finally found a man who accepted me com 
pletely as I was, made no attempts to reform me or anything like that, 
made me get over my guilt feelings about my child and my husband 
and things like that." 

"This psychiatrist, did he have any understanding of your point of 
view, of your political ideas, for instance?" 

"His are similar. I think this is essential. I couldn't make it with a 
bourgeois psychiatrist. That's why this one was able to help me I was 
able to really talk about things, things I'd never talked about before, 
He even helped me get over my resentment at being a woman. And 
that's why I don't really agree with Dan about monogamy, I mean 
for me. I mean, dig, I agree with Dan about being a poet and the need 
a poet has, his special need, and about being honest about it if it 
happens, and you need a change. But about monogamy, the whole 
idea in general, I find it stifling. Definitely. It dulls my sexual appetites, 
I told the psychiatrist once that sex in marriage becomes a regular 
routine, like having milk delivered at your cloor every morning, and he 
nearly fell out of his chair laxighing. To me, every prolonged sex rela 
tionship becomes monotonous, routine." 

It was at this point that Angel came down off his cross and went 
into his rabbinical role, about sex being holy and especially married 
sex, about the Shekinah presiding over the marriage bed every Sab 
bath eve, reminding me what I had said so many times about the 
community of lovers, about the primitive hierogamy growing hotter, 
more accusing, by the minute. It began to dawn on mo that lie saw 
himself as the sole defender of a faith that I had proclaimed but had 
now deserted, walking away from the challenge and, like Angel 
was always able to do, believing it, as he was able to believe almost 
anything if he got himself worked up to il enough. He was working 
around to where he suddenly remembered that he'd always known 
about it, about holiness and the hierogamy and community how it all 
began for him, really, when lie was just a kid and his parents sent him 
off to a Jewish summer camp 

* . . . and when I arrived them I found that I was already a camp 



SLUM BY THE SEA 33 

legend, and we talked out under a big full moon that summer night in the 
midst of woods on an open playing field like, and it was a scene of 
much warmth because - at that camp I got whatever concepts I now 
have of holy community because religion was important there and 
it was very beautiful, Larry, and there was community, you know, real 
community. It was a kind of unreal situation because we were all away 
from our parents, of course that's what enabled us to feel so free " 

His voice trailed off into a kind of self-communion with his mem 
ories, or perhaps he was suddenly conscious of motives behind this 
sudden uprush of memories, motives that he was sorting out privately 
and trying to justify to himself, the saint in him interrogating the devil. 
Anyway, when he finally spoke again it was to announce, defiantly and 
in my direction, that he had decided to shave off the beard after all. 

"Everybody is wearing a beard now Tony, Chuck, Dave here, 
even you are starting a beard or is it just that you haven't shaved for 
a few days?" He smiled his small-boy smile, sly and also shamefaced, 
and lapsed into silence again, to be alone with his secret triumph. 

The Joint is Jumpin 

By the time Chuck Bennison arrived, red-eyed after an all night 
session at bassist Phil Trattman's pad exploring "other realities" with 
the help of pot and jazz rhythms, a poetry reading was under way. 
Angel Dan Davies was holding forth with his latest jazz-inspired "open 
line/' free form pieces, Nettie was in the kitchen again preparing a 
buffet supper, and the chairs, divans, floor every square inch of 
sitting, lounging, squatting and sprawling space in the house were 
full up. Beer cans, lemonade glasses, wine glasses, ash trays, sketch 
pads and notebooks made for precarious footing. The doorbell kept 
sounding every few minutes as the party got really swinging, for it had 
gotten around that I-.es Morgan, the popular Negro trumpet man, might 
fall in sometime during the evening and maybe bring along a couple 
of men from his quintet for a jam session of poetry and jazz, I had 
talked to Lester early in the week and he had eyes to make the scene, 
but you never could tell about Les and his boys; they didn't know 
quite what to make of this poetry and jazz thing and besides, they 
might get hung up at somebody's pad and not show up till around 
midnight, if at all Phil Trattmaa was due to drop in early in the eve- 



34 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

ning with his bass, and a couple of the boys had brought bongo drums 
in the hope of sitting in with Les. 

Chuck Bennison took me aside to tell me he had managed to get a 
few fugitive lines down on paper from a vision he'd had the night 
before; it had come to him in a trancelike state when he was far out 
on pot. "I don t know what it means, exactly, maybe it's something 
like, who can tell? but I'd like to try it out with Les and his boys, 
and maybe it'll come to me," he said, with that nervous cackle of a 
laugh that sounded like self-mockery but was just Chuck's way of 
being modest and offhand when he wasn't the least bit modest and 
couldn't be more serious. 

Angel was punching out the lines of a poem; it was on the theme of 
love, universal love, and community, but the words rang like body 
blows as he boomed them out with his bass voice. No small-boy- 
hungry this bass voice of his, more like a bull elephant on the make 
love, or else! like verbal rape, and as male animal as a soaking sweat 
shirt after a tough scrimmage. Angel liked to make his poems strong; 
that's the way he liked to hear them described strong, except on the 
rare occasions when he deigned to temper justice with mercy, and 
then he was barely audible. Nothing between a bellow and a whisper, 
that was Angel Dan Davies. 

He finished with a bobbing of the head and shoulders that was more 
like take-it-or-leave-it than a bow to the applause, much as (I think) 
he imagined Bird Parker doing after blowing a wild far-out chorus that 
left his sidemen panting for the beat. Then he staggered over to where 
his wife Margot was sitting and, sinking to the floor., threw his head 
back in her lap and closed his eyes, 

I decided to wait a decent interval before calling on anybody else 
to read, knowing they would all pay Angel the tribute of showing 
reluctance to follow him, a tribute that each expected for himself in 
turn and something, I had learned, that never failed to impress the 
listeners, reminding them, perhaps, of "the perfect tribute** of silence 
that followed the "Gettysburg Address/' I piped a tape recording into 
the hi-fi, some lines that Carl Forsberg had blown the weok before, 
improvised to bass and bongo rhythms, and wandered into the dining 
room where Chris Nelson was reminiscing about Carl Solomon, a little 
knot of people gathered around him. 

"Carl Solomon, like he was already a legend when 1 was still living 



SLUM BY THE SEA 35 

in Brooklyn and I would drop in five six times a week at this lunch 
room in Brooklyn and all you'd hear about was Carl Solomon. The 
different lunchrooms, like, they'd have their heroes. They had their 
tables, like Trotsky s table, and they had the poets' table and this and 
that table, and there were all these other tables where they had noth 
ing and anybody could sit there. The legend got started there. I'd 
heard about him for a year before he was at Psychiatric Institute 
where they had all these geniuses, one hundred and thirty-five IQ and 
over, twenty males and twenty females, That's when Carl Solomon met 
Allen Ginsberg and he said, 'My name is Kirilov,' and Ginsberg said, 
*My name is Mishkin.' That's how they met. It was in this loony house, 
and they gave them window shades to paint on. There were a lot of 
fabulous painters there, like, a lot of New York people, like those 
Black Mountain people." 

Was he working then on some kind of a gig, somebody wanted to 
know, and what, if anything, was he writing? 

"It wasn't so much what he was writing, it was the things he said, 
man, like crazy, and everybody would repeat it. Yeh, he published. 
Under a different name, like Carl Goy was one of his pseudonyms, I 
remember, mostly for liberation and anarchist type magazines. Very 
exciting. Yeh, he had a job, he ghosted a Broadway column for a while 
and he lost the job when he copied too much whole passages out of 
Joseph Conrad, when he would get bored with the job, so he got fired. 
And he wrote for a publishing house, Man, that was a hard gig to 
make. He never explained his relation to the publishing house and like 
he found an in there. He was a superadaptable type cat in a way, one 
way, and in another way he wasn't. Like you see the way my nose is 
bent over to one side, for instance? He broke that, Carl Solomon did. 
It was in some chick's place, and I was wild for the chick, and I had 
to show off for the chick, and he was there and she told me to get rid 
of him. It was a party, like the going home bit, and Solomon says, "No, 
I'm staying here, what are you doing?' - and all I did I started shoving 
him out and we started fighting - over this chick, dig! - and he bent 
my nose. Once at a New Year s Eve party in Solomon s pad he showed 
me a clipping of himself as a kid. He was a child prodigy. He could 
remember every baseball score and every baseball player since the 
beginning of the game. He flipped four or five times, I don't remember 
how many times, Every time he was in I was out, every time I was 



36 THE HOLY BAKBARIANS 

out he was in. The way I met him, at one time there was a very excit 
ing group of teachers at the New School * 

Somebody interrupted to ask, "What's happened to Carl Solomon?" 
"I asked Ginsberg what happened to him and he said he'd had a 
letter from Carl saying he couldn't write at the time but in the near 
future he would. Ginsberg didn't know him too well, in fact. A couple 
of times I went down in the Village on Saturday nights when Id make 
the rounds and I'd see them together and they'd be talking loudly 
together. He was homosexual, you know. And Ginsberg, too, but in 
a weird, intellectual type way. Because I know Helen Parker said she 
was going to make him. In fact, in The Trembling of the Veil he says, 
'Thank you, H.P., you took my cherry at 23,' or something like that. 
Their homosexuality, I don't know, I feel it's weird, sort of - what I 
mean, it isn't real, really. I've seen these guys from the sticks make it 
in New York who don't know how to be homosexuals and they learn 
from other fags how to be homosexuals. These guys are like this 
intellectual type homosexual They are well read and they know all 
the things that the famous homosexuals have written in literature. But 
these same guys, they still make it with chicks. Like Solomon with this 
chick I was going to make, like he wouldn't leave her pad and like I 
knew he was going to make her and so I tried to beat up on him. And 
the funniest thing, he was like insane. Carl's a big cat, about sk feet 
or so, and this guy who was with me I asked him to help me, just 
to pick up Carl and help me carry him out, like they do in night clubs, 
you know, but this guy was scared, so I had to fight Carl myself. But 
Carl isn't strong, he doesn't know how to use his body, but I've always 
fought, so I could beat him up easy, you know. It's the funniest thing, 
there was a moment there when everything snapped in Carl and he 
just cooled down and said, *Oh, well, you're just showing off, I should 
have realized, I should never have caused a scene where you'd have to 
show off to your girl.' This sounds logical, but only on his basis, be 
cause he was thinking of something else, like this insane chess player, 
playing one game in his mind and another on the board/* 

It was getting a little hard to hear, with the bass and bongos going 
in another room, the tape I'd left on, where Carl Forsberg was going 
full up on his poem Lines on a Tijuana John. 



SLUM BY THE SEA 

In the beginning was the weapon 
a Chinese character 

started the chain reaction 
a thousand years passed 

a thousand mercenaries met 
in burnished war gear 
in a wheat field 

to settle the divine right 

of muscling in 
on the other mob's territory. 

We live at ground zero 
cowards join the army for protection, 

Come closer, friends, 
Just a few happy hints 
for survival. 

You've got to learn 
new facts 

youVe got to move 

towards simplicity 
you've got to have humor. 

Now, this handy dandy jewel 
I have in my hand 

I will give away absolutely free. 

It will resolve 
the national debt 

it is the perfect answer 

to our slum clearance problem. 
Now listen to this 

a do-it-yourself laparectomy set 

the hydrogen strophe 
the best fallout possible, 

Think of the funny embryonic mutations 

generous, genial, genocide. 
It's democratic too 

itll take fragmented man 

everyone will move upward 
in the free world 
equally 

in that final illumination. 



37 



38 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

Fun for the entire family 

if not entirely satisfied 

return tibe empty carton. 
And here is a junior kit 

consisting of pencils and paper 

simple Dadaist images 
exploding 

can be assembled on the kitchen table 

in Johns, in gigs, 
on mats 

in padded cells 

And the bass and bongos going under it with a steady beat, with 
only occasional short breaks, all with a hum in it that my hi-fi was 
picking up and amplifying. Not that anybody cared; by this time there 
were a dozen conversations going with little knots of listeners around 
this one and that one. 

One group was discussing different ways of making it without work 
ing. A man in his thirties Chillie, they called him, I don't remember 
his last name who was down from North Beach in San Francisco for 
the week end, was telling about some real cool cats he'd known: 

"Like Shag some of you may remember old Shag, he was around 
here a good deal of the time a few years ago Shag walked into this 
department store one day, went up to the sixth floor where the sporting 
goods section is, hoisted a 24-foot aluminum canoe on his shoulder and 
went down the escalator and walked out. Another time he went into 
the same store and picked up a tape recorder and wont over to the 
salesman and asked where the radio repair department was. The sales 
man said, 'We have no radio repair department here/ and Shag came 
out with, 'What? Why you've got to, I've got a guarantee on this box 
I bought it here two weeks ago and it's broken already* I got a one- 
year guarantee on it and I want it fixed.' And the guy told him to leave 
it there and they'd ship it back to the factory and repair it there. Shag 
asks how long it takes and the guy says about two weeks and Shag 
says, 'Oh, no, I need this for my work, I need this in three days - 
can't you get it fixed for me in three days?' And the guy says it's impos 
sible and Shag says, *0h well, 111 take it to a local repair shop and get 
it fixed at my own expense,' like real indignant yet! Dig? and he 
walks out with the tape recorder, a $250 tape recorder." 



SLUM BY THE SEA 39 

Chuck Bennison had insisted on going out and getting in more beer, 
and now I could hear him at the back door. I hedgehopped over legs, 
glasses and beer cans to get to the kitchen and give him a hand with 
it. Chuck wasn't having any himself; he was off it beer, whisky or 
any alcohol whatever. He was just proving to himself and to those of 
us who knew what a lush he had been that he could offer it to others 
and let it alone himself. Also he still had enough of the square in him 
to want to show that he could throw a few bucks in the kitty for the 
party and not be a freeloader like these other cats. He was to lose this 
innocence as soon as the few dollars he had left from his last monthly 
paycheck at the downtown advertising agency he had walked out of 
three weeks earlier melted away. 

On his first visit to Venice West he had arrived lushed and had a 
fit of the d.t's in the back bedroom, with Nettie and one or two of the 
girls trying to nurse Mm out of it nobody else would have anything 
to do with him, they hate alcoholics. He met Delia on that inauspicious 
first visit, and she took him home to her pad and straightened him out 
and got him off the bottle and turned him on to marijuana, to salvage 
what was left of his liver and administer artificial respiration to the 
poet's soul in him. 

Since then, Chuck had been trying to get hip to the ways of this 
new world and pursuing its rules and rituals with the breast-beating 
devotion of a new convert and what sometimes looked, to me at least, 
like the seriocomic assiduity of a college freshman aping his older 
fraternity brothers except that these initiates were Chuck's juniors 
by five years or more, which is a lot in times like these when the life 
cycle of a "generation 1 * is just barely a decade. His beard, a surprising 
pink in contrast to his straw-blond head hair, was already substantial 
but untrimmed I guess he thought he was going the sandal boys one 
better by traveling barefoot; he looked more like one of those beach 
comber Nature Boy health freaks than a real hipster, but his pale eyes, 
thanks to pot and Delia's nocturnal tutelage, already had that red- 
hued, heavy-lidded sleepless look that is to the pothead what the little 
sooty pop marks on the arm are to the heroin tyro. 

In short, he had passed his entrance exams but he wasn't really in 
yet; he wasn't quite with it For one thing, he couldn't listen to jazz 
without the novice's overdemonstrative emotionalism; he wasn't cool 
yet. Angel Dan Davies just barely tolerated him in his pad and even 



40 THE HOLY BABBARIANS 

treated him with deliberate and pointed coldness, a kind of hazing 
that Angel wasn't above administering to newcomers, for all his poems 
and protestations of universal love. Itchy Gelden was still giving 
Chuck the "just listen and try to dig it, man" treatment, and "like 
there's a reason for everything, man, and you can't expect to fall in 
from outside like a tourist and expect to make the scene right off you 
got to pay your dues, man, like everybody else." 

Like Jou Just Blow 

Chuck was shaking like a leaf by the time he sat down at the read 
ing stand, watching Angel and Itchy out of the corner of his eye, his 
voice tremulous with anxiety. But the poem was a proclamatory one, 
a defiant personal statement, and the very words themselves seemed to 
give him confidence as he went along. Les Morgan arrived in the 
middle of it, with his drummer and tenor man, and swung into the 
scene even before the drummer had gotten set up, which gave Chuck 
quite a lift, just to have a little music going behind him. There wasn't 
the slightest co-ordination between the poem and the music, either in 
mood or in rhythm this was in the first days of poetry and jazz when 
any sound behind poetry was a novelty, exciting, a gas. Something 
was happening on the poetiy scene in Venice West. We had talked 
about it for months and experimented with forms of poetry and music, 
but nobody knew, as yet, how to integrate the two art forms into some 
thing like a modern idiom that would lend itself to improvisation, at 
least on the musical level. There were those who insisted that even the 
poetry should be improvised. These were the fanatical jazz buffs who 
thought that the wordman had everything to learn from the jazzman 
and the jazzman could do no wrong. We were open for anything, ready 
to try anything. 

During these brave beginnings Stuart Z. Perkoff came up with a 
long poem, an oratorio for the speaking voice, calling for several 
voices, a speaking choir of Hipsters, a Dealer, a Poet and a Chick* It 
was dedicated to the great jazz pianist-composer Thelonious Monk 
and called Round About Midnite: A poem for Sounding, Others named 
in the dedication were two fellow poets and painters of Venice West 
Charles Newman and Tony Scibella. Now we were all set to try it 
otjt with music, with Tony as the Dealer, Charley and Chuck Beraodson 



SLUM BY THE SEA 41 

in the Hipster roles and a talented Negro girl singer that one of the 
musicians had brought along speaking the Chick's lines. Stuart was to 
speak the Poet's lines. The musicians were given a very brief rundown 
on the poem and we were off. 

HIPSTERS 

dig 

this poet 

sits at a piano 

clanging fingers against each other 

bonkdblonk bonkbonk 

listens for an answer 
clanggalingblonk 
& listens 

DEALER 

is he hip? 

does he swing? 

IVe got dreams for his fingers 

HIPSTERS 

he's been around before 

at sessions up & down the street 

always listening 

always trying to dig 

POET 

dreams I've got 
who'll lay some fingers 
on my hand 

HIPSTERS 

the sound is the thing, man 

POET 

if my left hand is dead 
& my right hand is withered 
& my arms are rigid 
& my shoulders brittle 
& my eyes are goofed 
& my jaw hung up 

tell me about the sound 

like I listen 

& hear what I can 



42 THE HOLY JJABBABIAKS 

The bass had laid down the beat and now the bongos took it up, a 
funky beat with Phil Trattman adding a few modem subtleties. I 
looked over at Les. He was moved, visibly moved and excited. The 
words of the poem had touched off something in him. He was trying 
to find the right kind of a riff to come in with. 

HIPSTERS 

who'd he blow with before? 
who does he dig? 
what's his story? 
who is he? 
does he swing? 

POET 

I've always blown 

alone 

in rooms & at the edge of everything 

always alone in a circle of light 

the words banging themselves out 

into some sort of sound 

& me, hanging on, trying to keep the beat 

coming in once in a while 

making it, not making it 

me & the words alone in rooms 
& at the edge 

HIPSTERS 

dig, man 

he wants to come in 

what does he blow? 

what does he blow? 

DEALEH 
down the street 
not too far out 
there's a chick 

she digs wordmen, man 

why don't you try to make it over there 

& see if she can cool you 



SLUM BY THE SEA 43 

Les began to blow, a yearning, haunting theme, in perfect mood 
with the words. This was it. This was what we had been working 
toward for months. The way Les handled his horn reminded me once 
more that jazz began as a vocal art, that the technique of those early 
musicians was a vocal technique; they aimed to make the horn talk. 

It was to be months, however, before any of us had a real grasp of 
the problems involved in this revival of poetry and music. Months of 
experiment and public performance. And that, too, is a part of the 
story of Venice West. A part of the whole picture of a disaffiliated 
generation trying to find a way of life that it could believe in, to find 
it and express it in music, in poetry, in prose, in painting and dance, 
as men have always groped their way to new values and to a new way 
of life through the arts. 



Biography of Three Beats 



The Embarrassed Man 



NOTHING is so EMBABBASSING AS BEING HAILED ON THE SXHEET WITH 
hearty familiarity only to prove unknown on closer inspection to the 
greeter. A case of mistaken identity as embarrassing for the accosted 
as for the accoster. 

This is the story of Chuck Bennison's whole life an embarrassing 
case of mistaken identity. Others were always mistaking him for some 
one he wasn't. He even mistook himself for somebody else; in boy 
hood for the All American Boy; in young adulthood for the Man Most 
Likely to Succeed; in marriage for the Model of Domesticity. And he 
was wrong every time. "Not till I came to Venice West was 1 able to 
know and be what I am, and be recognized for what I am." 

After two years of close acquaintance with Chuck Bermison and a 
playback of our tape-recorded conversations, I am not at all surprised 
that people have continually mistaken him for what he isn't. Because 
Chuck is not a person. He is a do-it-yourself kit of bits and pieces of 
a personality in the process of becoming a person. 

To playmates, schoolmates, college friends and, later, business asso 
ciates and social acquaintances, Chuck seems to have presented the 
appearance of stereotyped conformity. As a boy he joined the Sea 
Scouts, dutifully attended the Christian Science Sunday school and 

44 



BIOGRAPHY OF THREE BEATS 45 

participated in the usual sports. As a young man he dated the right 
girls and made the right friends. He was an exceptionally bright stu 
dent who went to Colgate on a scholarship and then on to graduate 
work at Harvard and at Boston University. Chuck had no difficulty 
going into a career in advertising, finding the right jobs and being liked 
by employers and associates. The casual observer would have spotted 
him as the classical example of an up-and-coming young American on 
the make for a place among the power elite. 

But here is where Chuck's resemblance to the classical example ends 
and proof of mistaken identity begins. He says he received "an exces 
sive amount of love" from his mother and did not like his father that 
is, until the last few years of the man's life (he died when Chuck was 
twenty-five). Now thirty-five, he has been married twice (both church 
weddings), divorced once, and is presently separated from his second 
wife. He has made periodic breaks from his jobs, disappearances that 
must have seemed inexplicable to everyone who knew him, with 
drawals and returns that make sense only when he fills in the missing 
pieces 

"I would just up and go, that's all. Walk out and not come back. 
When I got fed up with it I'd go away somewhere. I'd go away where 
nobody knew me and just goof for a while. Or try to write. And when 
my money ran out Yd drift back again, with some plausible-sounding 
story, or, more often, I'd go to some place new and start again, well, 
where I'd left off more or less. I mean, I'd get the same kind of a job 
again once I tried going into business for myself and it was success 
ful for a while but there would always come that time, you know, 
when Td get fed up again with the whole thing, or they'd get wise to 
me, because you can't live that kind of a lie, keep up pretenses false 
pretenses, really for very long that way. Sooner or later they'd get 
hip to the fact that I'm an oddball" 

"That could mean so many things/' I remarked. "Even reading 
books or going to concerts, and certainly reading poetry aloud any of 
these things are enough to mark a man as an oddball in some circles." 

"Oh, no, many people that IVe known do such things without no, 
I figure that Tm subversive basically." 

"Subversive? On what values? You mean political, moral ?* 

"All kinds. All kinds of phony values. In any civilization, at any 
time, I think most values are phony, and I think my attitude toward the 



46 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

values, the symbols of the state, marriage, sex, have always been sub- 
versive. I've been able to conceal these attitudes of mine with more or 
less success, but only, like I say, just so long. IVe felt that all these 
social values, including religion and patriotism, are tawdry and phony 
things and have no moral value and I guess my contempt for them 
showed through sooner or later. And then there would be a crack-up. 
It was just a question of who would crack first, me or the people 
around me. Not that I didn't try. Religion, for instance. When I was 
in college I had a lot of conflicting ideas about it. I went to the Epis 
copal church services, to Catholic church, I even looked in for a while 
at a Jewish synagogue/' 

"What were you looking for?" 

"I thought of the value of ritual, of devotion an objective kind of 
devotion, perhaps -I don't know what I was looking for. Anyway, I 
didn't find it." 

"Do you tend to make your own private rituals? Do you find yourself 
ceremonializing anything ?" 

"No, unless you could call my drinking a kind of ritual Alcohol is 
used in some religious rituals I've read about." He laughed. He was 
joking, of course, and he knew I knew it, 

"It wasn't till about four years ago that I was finally willing to face 
it - that I was an alcoholic. I'd read books about it. I adopted a diet 
that would permit drinking of a pint to a fifth of whisky a day. To me, 
alcohol had been roughly equivalent to oxygen. At first I took it at 
times when I felt I couldn't cope with tilings. That was during the 
period when I'd take, say, three drinks a day up to the period where 
I'd take, say, eight or nine, and then your aim sort of shifts to where 
you're after oblivion, blotting out your consciousness. I needed to be 
dropped down real hard before I could do anything about it. With the 
help of Alcoholics Anonymous I was able to stop drinking for extended 
periods of time. Sometimes when I fell off the wagon it was with 
frustration at my not being able to write sometimes it was my sexual 
life, the extreme ambivalence that I feel toward women, and I suppose 
men, too, for that matter, the inability to face the pains of the world, 
especially the pains of my own conflicts," 

Chuck had tried psychoanalysis, sporadically, when ha had enough 
money to pay for it and sometimes even going into debt for it, but to 
no avail so far as his excessive drinking was concerned, although he 



BIOGRAPHY OF THREE BEATS 47 

does claim that it helped him to understand some of his problems 
where mother, father, and family conflicts were concerned. For all her 
lavish affections, his mother never approved of any of the women in 
his life, neither the girl friends of his youth nor the two women he 
married. "She tried to, I guess, but she just couldn't." As for his father, 
"Before I was ten I looked up to him as a model and an idol, but I 
fought with him bitterly and I wanted to be defeated by him. This was 
one of the patterns I carried into my adult life." 

His mother had made a considerable amount of money on real estate 
receiverships during the Depression. "I asked her for money at times, 
but the advice that went with it I didn't want her advice. I didn't 
think there was any advice she could give me that would help me any. 
For one thing, there was so little she knew about me by that time, I 
mean about the things that mattered most to me. She has certain 
neuroses like putting people under obligation not only me but 
everybody. I don't think she was consciously aware of this, but that's 
the way it always ended up, so I've tried to maintain my own inde 
pendence. It isn't easy to reject affection and money even if it is 
sometimes reluctantly given, and you need it badly enough and, 
well, at such times I guess I just played along with appearances, like 
I did with everybody and everything till the inevitable crack-up. 
What is it Jean-Paul Sartre says in No Exit? "Hell is oilier people.' " 

Hell is other people. This from a man whose search has been for a 
sense of belonging, a sense of community, a man who spent years of 
his life trying to adjust himself to the values of middle-class society. 

His physical appearance should make it easy for him to belong. 
Blond, above average height, muscular, good looking, he might easily 
be picked by any fashion photographer as the model of a young bus 
iness executive. As a boy, he must have looked like any normal teen 
ager. Yet he regarded himself as a subversive in every way and his 
story, as it unfolded to me in successive interviews over a period of a 
year or more, bore out the self -characterization. 

Even the fact that he showed up on his first visit to my house looking 
a bit shaky after a big Saturday night did not blur the picture for me 
on first meeting. It is Standard Operating Procedure, if not de rigueur, 
for advertising men, newspaper, radio, TV and other communications 
people to have a hang-over on Sunday morning. Or at least to affect 
a reasonable facsimile of one. His conversational manner had just the 



48 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

right blend of New Yorker sophistication and upper-class bohemianism, 
the Madison Avenue exurbanite gone slumming among the disaffiliates. 
Only a shaving scratch left by a shaky morning-after hand marred the 
good grooming of his face and hair. The rest was all gray flannel, only 
slightly rumpled, complete with slightly off-beat tie and casual but 
expensive shoes. 

Today Chuck Bennison is bearded and barefoot; he has shaken off 
John Barleycorn and taken on Mary Juana and burned all his gray 
flannel britches behind him. He still puts more body English into his 
jazz-listening than the cool cats approve of, but he is learning. He is 
searching for the Self and finding God. "Ill never forget the time Dan 
Davies came to my pad and wrote on the mirror: This is the face of 
God you see." 

With this sense of holiness goes, of course, a feeling of separateness, 
It is not the jolie & deux of embattled lovers; it is not the one against 
the world attitude of the solitary hermit; it is we against they. We 
against the Others. No attempt is made to define we or they. No defini 
tion is necessary. We is what this generation is all about, whether you 
call it beat or disaffiliated or anything else. We is what its books are 
about, the name of all the characters in those books and what those 
characters do and say. Everything that happens to them happens to us. 

"They are the Others, the Squares. They don't dig jazz. . . . They're 
not with it. ... They're putting on the heat again. . . , They killed the 
story because it might lose them an advertiser. . * They rejected my 
book because it was controversial." 

Looking back on his past as business executive and advertising copy 
writer, Chuck Bennison says: "It all looked so logical at first, slipping 
into place from campus to copy desk, from EC 3 or Business Ad to 
junior exec, or from Psych 4 to Personnel like stepping from military 
academy into West Point, Or from Eton and Oxford into the diplo 
matic service playing fields of Eton and all that sort of rot And 
believe me, I fitted in. That's my curse. I fitted in to everything Noth 
ing is so frustrating as to discover that you can do bettor than other 
people at the things you have the most contempt for. And look the 
part. When all the time I hated everything I was doing and everybody 
connected with it. It was always a tossup whether I would one day 
split a gut laughing or blow a gasket from sheer anger and frustration* 



BIOGRAPHY OF THREE BEATS 49 

One day everything would look silly to me, like grownups playing at 
kid games, and the next day I hated myself and felt like a heel writing 
the stuff lies . . . not just harmless lies, like this soap will make you 
beautiful or this hair oil will make you a Gregory Peck . . . but straight 
out-and-out lies that well, you'd wonder that anybody could believe 
stuff like that . . . and yet the damn stuff sold merchandise. So that I 
never knew whom I had the most contempt for, myself for writing it 
or the people who believed it. Maybe that's one reason I've never been 
interested in politics I've only voted once in my life and that was just 
to please my mother somebody she knew was running for the school 
board or something I figured if people, grown-up people, could be 
lieve the stuff I was dishing up to them in the ads I was writing, what 
sense did it make to let them vote on things they probably didn't have 
the slightest knowledge about not that they ever really get a chance 
to vote on anything that really matters, and maybe it's just as well." 

This nonvoting attitude is not to be confused with the self-disenfran- 
chisement of the large part of America's eligible voting population that 
regularly fails to go to the polls. Chuck's attitude is more like a No 
Confidence vote. He is contemptuous of all politicians, and his feel 
ing about the people who go to the polls to express a preference be 
tween one man or one party and another is a mixture of pity and con 
tempt. Like everything else about Chuck Bennison, his political and 
social attitudes are in flux, constantly changing and shifting, far from 

fixed. 

Political solutions? "What are they but election tactics, lies, decep 
tions, trickery, mass manipulation? All parties use the same tricks, so 
what choice is there between them?" Democracy? "It's just a big shuck, 
the biggest shuck of all The only equality there can be is equality 
between equals," which calls to mind the cynical remark, "All men are 
equal, but some are more equal than others." Economic exploitation? 
"What holds the exploited to the exploiters? The same thing that holds 
the whore to the pimp, It isn't parasitism so much as it is a symbiotic 
relationship. They need each other, in the strongest way that anybody 
can need anybody in this world - neurotically. It's a sick relationship, 
sure, but there aren't any political solutions for it, any more than laws 
and prisons can cure prostitution." Revolution? "What revolves in 
revolutions is the dramatis personae of the play; the roles remain the 



50 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

same and the relationships remain the same. Sometimes the names for 
things change, but the things remain the same. The prisoner believes 
in his bars." 

Hung between alternatives precariously hung, and in a perpetual 
state of imbalance Chuck Bennison sometimes tries to make a virtue 
of indecision, a philosophy of polar opposites. Often this takes the 
form of wry, cynical humor. "Creditors? It's good to have creditors, 
You can always be sure someone will miss you when you're gone. . . . 
I think only good people go to hell. It's their reward for being good. 
Just as bad people always go to heaven. It's their punishment for being 
bad. The official truth is always a lie. That's why I'm always on the 
side of the underdogma." 

One thing, however, remains constant with Chuck Bennison: Hell 
is other people. In Chuck's case this includes a mother who clings to him, 
resentful of the intrusion of all other women in his life; his first wife 
who gave him love, loyalty, community status and a gracious domes 
ticity that enveloped him in an atmosphere of success and well-being, 
and stifled his every impulse to artistic creativity; a second wife who 
promised greater understanding of his needs, encouraged creativity - 
in his spare time filled the house with upper-class bohemians, drank 
with ham, promoted his business career, and ended up by filling his 
life so completely that there was no escape except desperate flight. "It 
got so I was never alone! To write anything of value a man has to be 
alone with himself once in a while." 

Always Other People, including bosses who praised and promoted 
him and office associates who partied and plotted with him for bus 
iness advantages everybody always paying him the embarrassing 
compliment of mistaking him for somebody ho was not and never 
wanted to be. Till he found himself one day, quite By accident, in 
Venice West, shacked up with a girl in a store-front pad and pound 
ing away on a typewriter set up on a packing case* The board, he will 
tell you, just grew naturally out of not shaving for a few weeks. "Just 
too busy balling and writing/* Pressed on the subject or is it that 
time has given him perspective? he will tell you that the beard is 
really significant: "It's my letter of resignation from the rat race," 1 What 
he means is, it has made him unemployable in a world he has left 
behind and is determined never to return to. 



BIOGRAPHY OF THREE BEATS 51 

Dead End Quiz Kid 

Some, perhaps, have nothing to go back to. The pad of beat genera 
tion living offers them the only congenial environment they have ever 
found anywhere. They have never known the hazards of Success. 
Chris Nelson is one of these. 

"I quit school in the eighth grade. I went straight from eighth grade 
into reform school." 

That is how Chris Nelson begins the story of his education. How did 
he happen to graduate to reform school? "My mother was one of those 
progressive types, progressive education and all that. She sent me to 
the summer school for kids that the University of Chicago was running. 
I used to sleep in the same bed with her when I was thirteen, fourteen 
years old. I got to the point where I was irritated by it and, well, I beat 
her up. Started slapping her around and she called the cops, and the 
cops put me away and she signed me away for reform school. I was 
there nine months. That was the one fight we had, and ever since then 
I've never been too friendly with her. I was aware that she was promis 
cuous, but not with women, just with men. She left my father when I 
was a couple of years old, I guess. According to his story she was 
unfaithful to him. You hear a story like that and you got to believe 
something. He's a real weak monster, my father. He could He easily. 
Later I found out my mother was homosexual." 

The rest of Chris's education is a story of public libraries, bookstore 
browsing and people. 

"In Chicago I was going to the Blackstone Avenue branch of the 
public library all the time. I'd go in -like, I wanted to read all the 
books, starting with A, you know, and just go straight through. But I 
gave that up after a while. Decided it might take too long. I read all 
of Herbert Best, all of Ernest Thomson Seaton. What happened was, 
all these authors were always referring to all these other authors and 
so it blossomed out, so I'd read other guys. And now I cant stand 
those kid books. And that's what started me off and I got interested in 
drawing and I went to the Art Institute of Chicago and that started me 
off on drawing really seriously. I went there about a year. I went to 
the downtown library a lot, too. I'd take the El and go down and spend 
the day. Ill tell you how tremendous the influence of the library was. 



52 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

I read Leatherstocking Tales, by Cooper? and I thought I was going 
to become the forest primeval all by myself. I set pins, in the bowling 
alleys, you know? and I made enough loot to get up to Ely, Minnesota 

Ely being the last town on the border between Minnesota and 
Canada - and I stole a canoe and took off for Canada. About three 
weeks later they found me, black fly marks all over me and in the last 
stages of starvation. They nursed me back to health and sent me back 
to Chicago and that's when I started slapping my mother around. 
After I got out of reform school I took off for Denver and spent a year 
there and then I joined the Army, thinking I could get the GI bill. In 
Denver I went to the Skid Row there and got me a bed for fifty cents 
a night I set pins there, too. The cop who arrested me was an ordinary 
cop who was taking courses at Colorado State University in criminal 
psychology or something, He asked me if I was living with a fag or 
anything, or was I a dope addict. I was real sensitive at fifteen or six 
teen because I knew this guy was trying to figure me out as a case 
history, since I'd read some of the books he had. He advised me to go 
in the Army because I could get the GI bill, and the advice was very 
good. I joined on my sixteenth birthday. That was in 1946." 

At fifteen or sixteen Chris Nelson had read some of the books that an 
adult student of criminology reads an indication of the type of 
education this Dead End quiz kid was getting. Spotty, precocious, 
advanced in some subjects, weak in the most elementary ones; this is 
the chaotic sort of self-education frequently found among bohemians 
and rootless hoboes in the jungles of on*the~go America, and among 
beat generation youngsters who can discuss the most erudite sub 
jects knowingly in the language of juvenile delinquents. 

Of Ms service record, Chris says: "I never did get to see any action. 
I went down to Kentucky for Basic and then I was shipped to Japan 
for Occupation. Oh, as soon as I saw that Tokyo! I went AWOL for a 
month. They didn't get me at all. When I got buck they sent me out 
like they was going to punish me. They sent me to Saipan, which was 
even more of a ball. . . . But that Tokyo! It was so absolutely foreign 

I couldn't put my finger on any response at all, I couldn't figure it 
out. It just intrigued me, everything about it. Everything oxolic about 
it appealed to me, like a prostitute giving me a flower. I had all these 
flower allusions from books IVo road. You should have soon this pros 
titute. She was going with this spade cat I knew, this Negro. 1 



BIOGRAPHY OF THREE BEATS 53 

cutting in on him, in a way, but that was all right. Both of us had a 
very weak sense of possessionship. He didn't mind it very much. She 
gave me a flower when I was leaving. You wouldn't expect a thing 
like that to happen in the States a prostitute giving you a flower. 
Like when I was down in Little Rock. I was trying to find nude models. 
So I thought the best thing to do was to make all the hustlers down 
in North Little Rock. I went down there and I sounded out about a 
dozen of them and all of them were indignant. One of them sent her 
boy friend out to have me busted. I almost had it, too, like this guy 
was big and I was little and far away from home. But you know how 
I got a model? I went to the wealthiest girl in town and got her. The 
biggest specialist in Arkansas, his own chick. She not only said, 
*Oh, can I model?' but she offered other suggestions, too. Like sex, well, 
you know, she like to intimated so. But at the time I was going with 
my wife. I learned a very important thing. When you want to try 
something experimental, different, and shocking, do not go to a poor 
girl, because she won't stand for any nonsense. Go to a wealthy girl 
because she's so secure that she wants something that'll jar her up, 
you know. And shell try the most fantastic things. Just think of what 
you can do!" 

Chris Nelson was filled with awe over the possibilities, but he didn't 
explore or take advantage of them as others have. He married the girl 
he was going with, is still married to her, and they have three children, 
but he is still as beat as he ever was, despite family life and a regular 
job at a defense plant. His position in the Venice West community is 
ambiguous but secure on the whole. He throws parties at his house 
which comes as close to being a pad as family life with children will 
permit and he makes the marijuana scene on week ends. He might 
show up at work a little woozy on Monday mornings and miss a day 
occasionally, but he manages to hold onto his job. 

A rich girl with a yen for "the life" is the fond dream of many a 
beatnik in San Francisco's North Beach or New York's Greenwich Vil 
lage, but in Venice West the dedicated poverty of the artist is very 
serious. Not that some in Venice West wouldn't welcome such a wind 
fall on their own terms, of course but they are pretty sure, I think, 
that there is no Poor Little Rich Girl in their future. Rich girls come 
to listen, and some stay for a while, but none to my knowledge has 
adopted "the life/' or made any permanent union within it, legal or 



,54 THE HOLY BABBARIANS 

illicit But that it has a kind of fascination for them there is no doubt 
at all, Chris has an explanation for it. 

"It's because of their security. Everyone has to outlive their environ 
ment, The way to outgrow it is to do the opposite of what you always 
have. Secure people want to shake themselves up. Like a lot of people 
who have rigid personalities often do dangerous things." 

Evidently it doesn't work the other way round, however. I reminded 
Mm about this - that the opposite of his own upbringing and environ 
ment would be to marry a rich girl and settle down on a big estate, or 
make a fortune himself and settle down as a solid citizen. His answer; 

Tm not that careful a thinker, I guess. You gotta think for these 
things. I don t plan much. Fm sort of a friendly opportunist." 

The question of poverty and wealth came up often in interviews. 
Most often it was confined to speculations on the best way to make out 
with a minimum of income, rather than with dreams of personal finan 
cial success or marrying wealth. The ideal aim is a viable, voluntary, 
independent poverty, preferably with a marriage or shack-up partner 
who is willing to work for a living, at least part time. Chris Nelson, 
who holds a full-time job and supports his wife and children and does 
his poetry writing and painting evenings and week ends, is the excep 
tion. Usually it is a working sweetheart or wife who is the chief pro 
vider. Where both write or paint, it is the wife who is the Sunday 
painter or writer. Separations when they occur arc not due as a rule to 
dissatisfaction with this financial arrangement but to other causes, 
Dedicated poverty is taken for granted, so much so that it is seldom a 
subject for discussion. What is frequently discussed arc ways of "mak 
ing it* Tricks of the trade, you might say - the "trade" of getting by 
with as little commercial work as possible, or, ideally, with no com 
mercial work at all Very few have learned to make an art of poverty, 
Or to reason out its advantages. Kenneth Rexroth, the poet, is the 
exception. He remarked to me when I was visiting with him in San 
Francisco: 

"Once you reject the lures of society you discover that living in 
poverty you live much better than other people. I have friends who 
are advertising men and publishers and what not on Madison Avenue 
and I eat better than they do and drink better than they do and Hve 
in a better house, and my car is fust as efficient, and costs a groat deal 
less to fix and I fix it myself. I live, essentially, a richer life than any* 



BIOGKAPHY OF THREE BEATS 55 

body I know who is actually rich and I am, in income, the poorest 
person I know. I don't know anybody that makes as little money as my 
wife and I make and have two children. And yet, I go better places 
and see and do better things, I read better books. All they know to do 
with their money is what they're told, and so they buy commodities 
which are all made of soy beans and read books which are all made 
of soy beans and go to plays which are all made of soy beans, 

"The whole morality of poverty has been exhaustively analyzed by 
Christian theologians, Catholic theologians, that is hardly by Protes 
tantsand especially since the Franciscans. Poverty, of course, is 
obedience to the Commandments which forbid covetousness. Now it 
so happens that the patrons of the Third Order of St. Francis, which 
is the Order that lives in the world and marries, etc., are St. Elizabeth 
of Hungary and St. Louis of France who were respectively queen and 
king, so that the circumstances of one's own personal wealth, into 
which one happens to be born or thrust, are of little importance. I 
mean, the thing that is important is the detachment from one's own 
possessions and the lack of covetousness of the possessions of others. 
This is something that nowadays people simply don't understand at all. 
When you tell people that wealth or riches are an evil in themselves 
and that a rich man is ipso facto a bad man, they look at you as though 
you were crazy. And my wife once said that the universal sin of modern 
society is covetousness and it is so universal and pervasive that when 
modern people read the word covet in the Ten Commandments they're 
under the impression that it is some kind of ritual sin of the ancient 
Jews, like eating trafe, They don't even know what it is. A person must 
be completely detached from all the lures of society, so that it doesn't 
make a damn bit of difference to him whether he has a Cadillac or not. 
By and large the lures of society are unsatisfactory. There is no reason 
except empty prestige why you should drive two hundred and fifty 
horses to work." 

Analysis like this would never occur to Chris Nelson or his wife. 
They drive a beat-up jalopy of uncertain age that looks as if they 
picked it up in one of those dumps where people illegally abandon 
junky old cars. Like Rexroth, Chris fixed up the car and keeps it in 
repair himself. Lately he has acquired an old motorcycle. So tenuous 
or atrophied? is his sense of possessionship, to use his own word 
for it, that when the cycle he pronounces it to rhyme with chickle in 



56 THE HOLY BARBAKIANS 

the manner of most motorcycle addicts - was stolen he simply neglected 
to report the theft to the police, and it was only by the rarest of ac 
cidents that it found its way back to him a few weeks later by a route 
that I have not been able to disentangle from his account of the matter. 
He told me about getting it back in the same smiling, detached way 
with which he had announced its loss. As for his car, I have known 
him to forget where he parked it and hitch a ride home with somebody 
and simply do without it till a friend found it and told him where he 
could pick it up. This is certainly a measure a full measure of the 
sort of detachment Rexroth was talking about, but it would never 
occur to Chris Nelson to analyze it or even to regard it as anything 
different or special. 

Chris evidently took his army experience with the same blend of 
innocent riaivet6 and matter-of-factness. 

"It was the first time I saw primitive people. A couple of weeks after 
I got to Saipan I went out in the boondocks and met some natives and 
they invited me home and I became very friendly with them. The 
natives were selling liquor fermented coconut milk to the soldiers, 
I don't know if it was all right or not for soldiers to visit natives in 
their homes, but I spent most of my time out of camp, I made roll call, 
though. Td go out by myself or with a couple of flip artists. Filipinos, 
you know. A couple of them were artists. Almost all of them wore high 
school graduates. The Army took the educated ones and put them in 
uniforms. They were a crack troop. I figured when they sent those 
guys back to the Philippines they were going to make doggone good 
Hukbalahaps. I knew when they got back they were going to have 
discipline; they were going to take orders and give orders. The Army 
made a few mistakes and this was one of them. They educated them 
a little too much," and he laughed. Chris has the only laugh in Venice 
West that is completely devoid of cynicism or bitterness. It is unin 
hibited, clear, almost ticklish. The laughter of a child. 

Chris Nelson's story of army service is not the story of the Sad 
Sack. He got all the breaks that usually go only to the cagey ones who 
know how to play the old army game and the canny ones who know 
how to stay out of trouble. Yet he is neither cagey nor canny. He is the 
Innocent, in the classical meaning of the term, the wide-eyed simple 
one whom nobody tries to con for anything because he doesn't look as 
if ha had anything., and whom nobody tries to draw into any deals 



BIOGRAPHY OF THREE BEATS 57 

because he gives the impression of being entirely without guile. It 
appears that he escaped punishment and disciplining by his officers 
for things that would have meant the guardhouse, even court-martial, 
for anybody else. He got the breaks that usually go to children and 
fools. Yet Chris is far from being either a child or a fool. Here is his 
account of what he did with his GI bill. 

"I went to the New School for Social Research in New York and used 
my GI bill up. About a year there, and that was a ball. When Rudolph 
Arnheim gave a lecture there was sometimes fist fights and after the 
bell rang people would stand around and argue with each other instead 
of going to the next class. He lectured on art, esthetics. He was very 
exciting. In fact, those fist fights were about art principles. Not many, 
but enough to stick in my mind that that class was pretty exciting. 
There was one class I used to sneak into where these sociologists or 
something used to get some guys from Greenwich Village, old Italians 
who could play the goatskin bagpipe and another guy with the flute or 
something and one guy with the drum . , . anyway, they wouldn't play 
because nobody had any wine. So they sent a guy out to get wine, and 
all these guys with white shirts and ties and chicks with their expensive 
clothes and modern earrings . . . they all had to drink a white Dixie 
cup full of wine, and they were making faces and all. And then they'd 
play. That was the whole atmosphere of the New School. The music 
was repetitive, not exciting. I liked the atmosphere, it was tremendous. 
Bob Gwathney was an art teacher there, Dowinsky was teaching psy 
chology . . . and Feran in music. It was a living ball. There was Arn 
heim, he was teaching Gestalt psychology. He set me onto the psy 
chology of perception, like little boxes and squares and each tiling 
having a balance. Gestaltists don't believe that these things operate in 
space. That's an artist's idea. The idea, a two-dimensional idea, that 
two things can balance and still have a violent opposition, was excit 
ing to me. When I went on to Hoffman it came in pretty good. It like 
opened up new things. While I was going to the New School I was 
also going to the Art Students League. 

"This art interest of mine, it really got going in the Army. Those 
Philippine flips were sign painters for the Army and on the side they 
were doing these paintings with, you know, sign-painting paints, and 
I started doing that, too. Earlier, when I was a kid I was doing char 
coal drawings only ... of models. These flips were always drawing 



58 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

their home town, see? coconut trees and everything like that. I 
started doing that too, I copied their work. That was when I was in 
Saipan. When I was in Tokyo I had copies of the woodcuts of fifty 
views of Mount Fuji, and a very good copy of 'The Courtier,' by I 
forget who. But it wasn't till I got to the New School that I found out 
what a ball art could be/' 

From art, psychology and the New School for Social Research to 
the studios and cafes of Greenwich Village was only a step, and Chris 
Nelson took it in stride. Greenwich Village in the late forties. 

"One thing about the Village, it had a tremendous tradition, and 
that was the first thing that hit you. There were people who knew the 
tradition and they were the important people. They hung around in 
groups and coteries. People made up hipster jokes about them. People 
playing recorders, playing Baroque music, playing Bach and Vivaldi, 
There was a folk music group, mostly Stalinists. There was the Tree 
of Life that was by the Circle at Washington Square where all the 
junkies hung out and all the hustlers. And the Waldorf Cafeteria was 
the Paris sidewalk restaurant thing of the time. And all the old 
anarchists . . . there was an anarchist hall on Broadway. There was 
the Spanish anarchists, there was the Catholic anarchists who had a 
soup kitchen down near the Bowery on Christy Street. Like I made 
that Bowery scene just before I flipped. I flipped four or five times, I 
don't remember how many times. The Bowery was the only place in 
town where you could go any time of the day or night and get a piece 
of bread and some soup. A lot of young people were there, The anar 
chist group was the most powerful group at that time. It was the intel 
lectual force of the Village and it fell apart suddenly. A lot of people 
went into dianetics and Reichian things. 

"Once by mistake I went to that anarchist hall too early, before the 
party started, and I saw those old people left over from the Spanish 
Civil War, an old lady and a whole moss of old men and 1 had a girl 
with me and one guy gets up and snaps out, What do you want?' 
and this old lady gets up and says, Don't frighten these young people 
away. Why do you always have to frighten them away?' It was sur 
prising to actually see someone who fought there in Spain, I met a 
couple of guys in the Village who made the Spanish War* They were 
waiters. One was del Rio, he had a steel plate in his skull and told 
stories about the Cataloman fighting and stuff. The Village has actually 



BIOGRAPHY OF THREE BEATS 59 

moved east. Even when I was there. The Village is too expensive. 
Toward the East Side there's a lot of people who live in poverty and 
won't ever get out of it. That's more like the right kind of an atmos 
phere, I tiiink." 

A neighborhood where the poor live, the poor who are resigned to 
their poverty, the best environment in which to live "the life." This is 
a cardinal principle which the beat share with the bohemians of the 
past. Among the beat generation young the problem of making a 
living is personal; each meets it in his own way, but among the older 
bohemians of Greenwich Village in the late forties, at least among the 
anarchists, some attempt seems to have been made to organize it along 
co-operative lines. Chris tells about it. 

"There was a place called Co-operative Messenger Service up in 
Chelsea and a bunch of wild men ran it. They didn't make very much 
money but they undersold the commercial messenger services. They 
had a printing press up there and they printed poems and stuff. There 
was a guy, Dick McCoy, who was very important back there. He was a 
constant writer, like Tuli Kupferberg was a constant writer. Dick, for 
instance, could show you a poem "Sonnet No. 317.' Dick and a friend 
hitchhiked down to Washington once to see Ezra Pound. When they 
came back they had been busted somewhere in Jersey. I understand 
that Pound wouldn't see anybody except some Fascist anti-Semite and 
Negro baiter. Dick was making it with Teena Robinson, a very beau 
tiful Village girl. Teena was that chick who started the boy-style 
modeling. She was built like a boy, a very beautiful boy thing. This 
was in the forties it's died out now, now everything is big tits. Teena 
was the first of the boy-girl group. This Teena, she was a weird chick. 
She'd sit for hours by the window and she'd say, like 1 just saw my 
Death walk by' and sit for hours like that looking out at people, and 
she wasn't high at the time either. Teena had the most beautiful body 
I've ever seen on anybody. There was one girl who had a prettier 
face, very active in, the anarchist group. She had an ugly body but 
what a facel My girl was a model, too. I met her at the New School. 
Lived with her for four years. Modeling was a good way to make a 
living, for males, too. I modeled a little myself. A photographer would 
pay fifteen bucks an hour, an artist three. If it was a friend, an artist 
friend, we'd model for each other free." 

Chris Nelson is not an actively productive poet and he paints very 



60 THE HOLY BABBARIANS 

rarely, though he draws, sketching on a tablet with pencil or charcoal 
frequently at parties. He has notebooks filled with such sketches, con 
stituting practically a pictorial history of beat generation people and 
places. Such notebooks are characteristic among the beat, notebooks 
filled with poetry and prose as well as drawings. The notebooks go 
with them everywhere and always, even when furniture, clothing and 
even books and records are left behind or sacrificed at sale to friends 
or dealers for the price of gas or bus fare to the next port of call; they 
are the most cherished personal possessions. 

When the beat make the westward trek, it is usually the last port of 
call. Very few go back to the Middle West or the east coast except for 
brief visits. Asked if he thinks he will ever go back east, Chris Nelson 
replied, "What's there to go back to?' 7 For most of them, as for Chris, 
there is nothing to go back to, no memories of former financial or 
social successes. To paraphrase Billy Graham's well-known slogan, they 
made the decision for the Muse long ago. Some of them would not 
even think it necessary to paraphrase it. For them it is a decision for 
God, but in a way that Billy Graham, judging from his pronouncements 
on the beat generation, finds sinful and un-Christian. Their disaffilia- 
tion is a rejection of the values of all organized religions. It is anti 
clerical. Even when they embrace Catholicism, as a few of them have 
done, it is a Catholicism that no church council has ever proclaimed 
as dogma or belief, a Catholicism that would shock their confessors 
if they ever discussed it with them, which they never do. It is a rejec 
tion of the moral and social values of even the most liberal and radical. 
The Venice West people sometimes define it as *the revolution under 
the ribs." 

Second-Generation Radical 

Chris Nelson is a second-generation, progressive school product, 
Tanya Bromberger is a second-generation radieal. So much of the 
literature of radicalism in the United States is still written by and about 
men and women bom around the turn of the century that one is apt 
to forget that their offspring have now come of age and are living their 
own lives. Tanya was born in 1929, the year of the groat stock market 
crash, and brought up in a Communist household during the Depres 
sion years. Her story is significant for comparison and contrast, throw- 



BIOGRAPHY OF THREE BEATS 61 

ing into sharp focus the difference between the Marxist thirties and the 
new alienation of the fifties. 

Tanya's first sixteen years were spent in Chicago. Her parents were 
Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe. There were two other chil 
dren, both boys. Her father, a secondhand furniture dealer, was self- 
educated, but very well read, and the house was full of books. "I 
attribute all my interest in books to that/' Tanya says. "He had hun 
dreds of books. As a younger man he had been politically active, read 
Jack London, knew a lot of the 'muckraker' writers, like Upton Sinclair 
and Lincoln Steffens, some of them personally. He got my mother into 
the Movement. Then, while I was growing up, he retrogressed com 
pletely to a bourgeois businessman. When I was thirteen I joined the 
YCL, the Communist youth group. He tried to bully me into quitting 
it. That was the first breach between us." 

The intensity with which radical parents strive to indoctrinate their 
children can be compared only to the "home training" of orthodox 
religious faiths. When, as in Tanya's case, the parent loses his faith, 
he tries to reverse the process. When he finds that he has done his work 
too well, his wrath is just as great, if not greater, that the wrath of 
the parent who remains true to the faith and finds his children straying 
from it. 

By 1945, when Tanya was sixteen, the "united front" honeymoon of 
the New Deal and the radical Left was over, Winston Churchill's "Iron 
Curtain" speech at Fulton, Missouri, was only a year away and the 
rumblings of the Cold War were already being heard by those with an 
ear for political thunder. It was the year when Franklin Delano Roose 
velt died and the long wake began, a wake that for many Left Wing 
and liberal New Dealers is not over even now. They have reluctantly 
left the graveside and given up hope of a Rising, but their faith in a 
Second Coming remains unshaken. Tanya's father was not one of these. 
By 1945 he had already joined the ranks of the "tired radicals." Accord 
ing to Tanya, "he had not only lost faith in radical political solutions, 
he had lost faith in his fellow man. He felt that the way to a better 
society had been put before the people and they had refused to accept 
it. They were unworthy of his efforts, his sacrifices. People were only 
getting what they deserved They hadn't listened to him and now they 
deserved whatever they got/' 

Political attitudes, however, are easier to change than social con- 



62 THE HOLY BARBABIANS 

nections. If Tanya joined the Young Communist League her reasons 
for doing so were probably as much from the pressure of propinquity 
as the results of parental indoctrination. The Young Communists were 
probably the only young people she knew well enough to feel at home 
with. Now her father objected to her joining the one circle where she 
had any sense of belonging. "He was horrible about it/' Tanya says, 
but he had no objection to her marrying a young man whose family 
"were very active Communist people." He himself had made no new 
friends outside Communist circles, despite his defection from the par 
ty, preferring to stay and argue interminably with his former comrades, 
as so many ex-Communists do, rather than exile himself among the 
heathen. Ex-Communists are rarely ex-Marxists; they are people who 
have simply lost faith in party strategy or tactics and moved to the 
Left rather than to the Right of party policy. As Tanya says, her father 
felt no one had listened to his wise counsel and he had withdrawn to 
his tent in a sulk. But he had not withdrawn from the argument nor 
from his circle of Communist friends and acquaintances. Where else 
could he hope to find people who even understood what he was sulk 
ing about? 

Tanya met Ben at a YCL meeting. "He was just a nebichle" a Yid 
dish word for any pathetically ineffectual person, a "poor thing/* "Ben 
was not an active Communist like the others in his family. He was 
lacking in any definite personality. He was good natured, but he was 
not an activist or an enthusiast about anything, a very lukewarm sort 
of a guy. At the time I married him I felt I was his intellectual superior 
and this intensified over the next two or three years and eventually I 
had nothing to say to the man. He never read a book in all the time I 
knew him, he worked as a mechanic which I have no snobbery 
against people who work with their hands, you understand but it 
was more in our recreation, the fact that we couldn't enjoy anything 
together. We quarreled mostly over my friends, my so-called bohemian 
associates. It threatened our marriage." 

This was Tanya's first reference to bohemian associates. What she 
probably meant was the bohemian fringe of the Communist movement, 
not the beat generation young people she knows today. 

"He felt that their way of life was so unconventional that it threat 
ened our relationship and he tried to forbid me from seeing them, 
which was just a repetition of the family pattern^ another father 



BIOGRAPHY OF THREE BEATS 63 

authority. My marriage to him had been just a device to free myself 
from parental authority! In fact, I would have preferred to just go off 
and live with him some place, but I was sixteen and my parents would 
have sent the police after me and brought me home if I attempted 
anything like that. Besides, I was too unsure of myself and my rebel 
lion against them at that time. I wanted to have sexual relations with 
Ben before our marriage and he was the one who refused, saying that, 
well, you know, we should have something to look forward to when 
we got married. He was ten years older than me, about twenty-six, and 
had been through four harrowing years in the war. I was sorry for him> 
he was the first fellow I ever went out with and I talked him into get' 
ting married because I wanted to get out of the house. I think eveB 
then I realized that I was probably just selling myself into another 
kind of bondage. In fact, I wasn't too enthusiastic about the marriage 
myself. I broke the relationship off shortly before we got married and 
it was only at my family's urgings that I finally agreed to the marriage. 
Anyway, we got married and moved to New York. My family was 
glad to get rid of me. I was not only a psychological and a political prob 
lem to them, I was an economic problem. They were foreign born, 
trying to make something out of a little business, and what little money 
they had they wanted to use for educating their two sons rather than 
me. Of course Yd been supporting myself since I was thirteen. My 
father got me my first job in a factory. I got fired for talking too 
much. It was piece work and they wanted quiet, and you know how I 
like to talk. After that I worked in groceries and supermarkets, as a 
cashier. So I was really self-supporting, but just the same I felt they 
were glad to get me out of the house. My father got a certain amount 
of compliance from the boys, but I was a rebellious child, and it be 
came a battle of wits between him and me." 

The boys, it seems, were given greater freedom than Tanya was. 
Freedom is a word that comes easily to the lips of anyone who has 
grown up in a radical household. In Tanya's case it meant sexual free 
dom. *It was a kind of double standard," Tanya says. "The boys could 
stay out later at night and do all sorts of things I couldn't do. As far as 
sex was concerned, my father began to look at me suspiciously when I 
was twelve years old. I admit that the intent was there, but I wasn't 
able to do anything about it. Anyway, the idea originated with him, 
not with me. He was unfaithful to my mother and I think maybe he 



64 THE HOLY BAKBARIANS 

saw in me a great many of his own personality traits, so he was sus 
picious of me and we clashed, as far back as I can remember. He told 
me the whole blame for misconduct in sex always is on the woman 
it's always her fault and that no man ever marries any woman he has 
possessed." She laughed. "I think that was his way with women, so he 
generalized it into a law of nature. My mother never talked to me 
about sex. I'm sure she was faithful to my father. But he talked to me 
about sex many times, and not very delicately, if you know what I 
mean. He's actually a foulmouthed man. You see, he had lost faith not 
only in men but in women. He felt women were usurping man's place 
in life, taking over men's jobs, that they were more reactionary, more 
complacent, more easily exploited by the bosses. He said that since 
women had gotten the vote things had deteriorated more rapidly. He 
also had violent race prejudices. I haven't spoken to him in five or 
six years." 

Such strong antipathies between parents and children often have 
sexual undertones. Tanya admits that she has had incestuous dreams 
and fantasies about her father. "When I was a child he used to fondle 
me a lot and sometimes he would bite my arms till they bled and my 
mother would get mad and snatch me away from him. I don't think 
she understood what was going on. I don't think he knew either. He'd 
heard of Freud but he'd never read him. Maybe he thought it was 
just fatherly love. He used to beat me up a lot, too, for my own good, 
of course, but looking back on it I suspect he got more pleasure out 
of it than he let on." 

An incident that occurred three years after her marriage, when she 
tried to leave Ben, throws light on this aspect of the father-daughter 
relationship. 

"Ben went straight to my family and told them I was going to leave 
him. They sent my big brother to bring me over to the house and my 
father took me outside to the car to talk to mo alone and proceeded to 
beat me up . . . and he became hysterical and started to cryj tolling me 
he was having an extramarital affair and that the woman was an intel 
ligent, passionate woman and that my mother was a nothing and 
devoid of sexual feeling and that if I would cast off my restraints and 
leave my husband he was going to do the same and leave my mother, 
I think he had some idea I might go and live with them him and 
the other woman, or something. He went on about how he had sacri- 



BIOGRAPHY OF THREE BEATS 65 

Seed his life for his three children, that he always wanted to be a 
writer and he'd given up his ambitions to work for three kids and a 
wife. I said, Well I don't have any children and all I want is to be free 
from Ben and go my own way/ My mother had a very serious heart 
condition at the time. If I left Ben my father might leave my mother 
and I was afraid that might kill her. I was sure that if he left my mother 
for another woman she would die, and I believed he really meant to 
do it. It was a kind of blackmail. So I went back with my husband, 
telling him on the way home that it was just coercion that made me do 
it, saying, If I ever despised you I despise you all the more now.' And 
so I stayed with him two more months and I kept thinking about it and 
I realized I was only nineteen years old and it was now or never, 
and that I was going to try and find myself some happiness. That's 
how I came to feel. So I just took off and left. I left two automobiles 
and a houseful of furniture and everything else. I packed a bag and 
got a bus to California." 

She was never unfaithful to Ben, Tanya says, but sexually the mar 
riage was unsuccessful from the start. "We were very incompatible 
sexually. I think that the last year and a half we lived together we 
didn't have any sexual relations at all." Looking back on it she thinks 
her faithfulness to Ben was more from fear, inexperience or just plain 
lack of opportunity than any sense of virtue. "What a person is will 
show itself in their sexual behavior," and Ben was a "poor thing" in 
this as in everything else. 

Litigation over money or property rights played no part in Tanya's 
divorce. From her point of view, the less the state, police or the courts 
are brought into tilings, the better. Everything in the house had been 
bought with their joint earnings, yet she made no claim to any of it. 
"I didn't want anything of his," she explains. "I wanted to be very 
ethical about it and just take what was mine and go, so that he could 
never say I had taken anything that wasn't mine. I left and my dad 
never left my mother, Now he claims it was a joke." Since she had no 
money of her own, she borrowed money from a friend, "a political 
friend," to make the cross-country trip. 

About money, Tanya says, "I've never even gone out with anybody 
that had money in my whole life. I guess I just don't like in men what 
brings success in this society, financial success, I've always had an 
antipathy toward financially successful men. I think the reason is that 



66 THE HOLY BAKBARIANS 

I smell a certain conformity in them that I can't stomach. They're so 
full of cliches and platitudes. They may not even know they're mouth 
ing platitudes, or they may know better but they're afraid, because to 
act upon what they know would make them poor and outcast; so they 
say, well, you know, it's too bad, but we have to go along with things 
as they are." 

Personality, good looks, social graces it is not, Tanya insists, that 
she is unaffected by such attractions, but that all of them are out 
weighed by the factor of conformism. A Leftist is more acceptable 
than a Rightist, even when all other things are against him. Neverthe 
less, nonconformism by itself is not enough. "There are a lot of non 
conformists that I don't feel drawn to sexually." 

Music, particularly jazz music, plays a large role in her emotional 
response to men. 

*Td say that through the years it has come to this, that if I really 
like a person and they are uneducated in jazz I usually attempt to turn 
them on to it, as the expression goes. So much of my own recreation 
comes from music that if they are going to spend much time with me 
it's a necessity. I have friends who are not interested in jazz, but I 
don't see much of them," 

The circle of jazz music tends to become a closed circle. Note that 
Tanya speaks of "turning on" people to jazz. This term, used by mari 
juana and heroin addicts, seems to Tanya quite appropriate when ap 
plied to jazz, as if jazz, too, were a kind of drug addiction. In many cases 
the jazz and drug circles intersect. This was so in Tanya's experience. 

In her case, too, there was the added factor of still another closed 
circle, the circle of Negro and white intermarriage. It was Riehard 
who turned her on to marijuana as well as jazz, Riehard was every 
thing that Ben was not. Richard was strong, handsome, well versed in 
books and jazz music, and sexually exciting. 

"Richard is not the first Negro fellow I went with. I had Negro 
friends in Chicago. I had dated Negro fellows but 1 had never gone 
to bed with them or any other man except Ben till I came out 
here. I didn't feel free back there I think it was the distance, really, 
that made the difference, two thousand miles or so from homo. It gave 
me a feeling of really breaking home ties for the first time, a feeling 
of release from the family. 

"I came to Venice to stay with a cousin who was living here and 



BIOGRAPHY OF THREE BEATS 67 

going to UCLA. I started going out places with her and meeting 
people, and began going with a Negro fellow who was completely non- 
political and nonconformist in his own way. He rode a motorcycle and 
I was riding with him on this motorcycle and wearing boots and Levi's 
and entering into a life I had known nothing about and which held 
some kind of a fascination for me. It was very thrilling the speed, 
the feeling of independence it gives you. There is a feeling of detach 
ment from the whole environment when you get on a motorcycle, when 
you go fast, and also because these people were outlaws to a certain 
extent and they were always having trouble with the police. Well, 
anyway, I had been close friends with a friend of his who was married 
to a white girl who was living in the same apartment building I was 
living in. They were split up and this Negro guy became good friends 
witfi me, trying to get me to approach his wife for him, to effect a 
reconciliation. And that's how I met Richard; he was a friend of 
Richard's. He told me a little about Richard, all uncomplimentary. 
And then I met Richard at this beach party of the IPP (the Independ 
ent Progressive party, headed by Henry Wallace). I didn't see him 
again for a while till I ran into him in a junk shop one day. He was 
looking around for secondhand books, we both were, and I bought him 
some coffee and we got to talking. It wasn't books, though, that 
brought us together at first. It was politics. We got into a political 
argument the first day we met because I was at that time what you'd 
call a Left Wing deviationist, and he had been expelled from the party 
shortly before we met. I think it was on account of marijuana. They 
told him they could not afford at this time to be linked in any way with 
vice or narcotics. That he was jeopardizing the party, and he agreed 
with them and accepted his expulsion. 

"He was still a rigid party liner when I met him and he kept looking 
for a label he could pin on me. He called me a Menshevik and a Trots- 
kyite and all those things, which I wasn't really. He was still going to 
a lot of party affairs, although he wasn't a member any more, but the 
party people didn't like me or the ideas that I put down the devia 
tionist sounds I was making. 

*Tt was Richard who turned me on to jazz and also on to pot. Of 
course I'd played the piano and the cello, too, for years and studied 
classical music and harmony and theory, and I found that pot en 
hanced my listening to any kind of music, classical or jazz. I wasn't 



68 THE HOLY BARBABIANS 

for or against jazz. But then I began to hear jazz frequently, constantly. 
Night and day. On recordings mostly, at first. Richard brought a 
phonograph and he sort of moved into my place without my permis 
sionand first he brought over a pair of house slippers and this 
phonograph and some records. I was working at the time for the Bank 
of America, but I was living in Venice so it was possible for him to 
move in like that without any trouble with the neighbors. Oh, yes, 
there would have been trouble, perhaps, but I and my landlady, I had 
her sort of under my domination. Actually she was an elderly Jewish 
woman and I bullied her. Also Richard made himself useful around 
the place, did a little plumbing for her and a few other things and 
endeared himself to her. She was happy to see me settle down on one 
guy instead of the streams of men in and out of my apartment. So she 
didn't really object to his staying there." 

While the Negro, if he has intellectual tastes and is acceptable in 
hipster and beat generation circles, may visit freely in the Venice West 
pads, he meets with the same treatment from Venice landlords and 
landladies as he would in any other comparable urban area. It is 
easier for him to find quarters in a slum than elsewhere streets 
peopled mostly by Mexicans and low-income whites with large fam 
ilies who are barred from other areas of the city by no-children restric 
tions or prohibitively high rentals. 

Any existing tolerance on the part of landlords, however, does not 
extend to mixed Negro and white sexuality, even in holy wedlock. 
Tanya's Jewish landlady was a rare exception. Perhaps she was won 
over by Richard's gentleness and charm, but I suspect that his oc 
casional free-of-charge odd jobs around the house had something to 
do with it, too. If neighboring landladies asked any questions she could 
always tell them he was the janitor or handy man. 

Tanya lived in a free tmion with Richard for about a year and then 
decided to marry him, "After I left my first husband I said I would 
never again marry anyone until I'd lived with him for quite a while. 
We were married by the Reverend Fritchman in the Unitarian church. 
Richard doesn't have any religion and I never had any. My father is a 
militant atheist or agnostic. I guess I would probably call myself an 
agnostic. But Richard and I used to go to the Unitarian church because 
we both liked Stephen Fritchman's sermons. They have arts festivals 
there every year, poetry readings and plays and things like that. Be- 



BIOGRAPHY OF THREE BEATS 69 

cause of his progressive ideas Fritchman can't even leave the country, 
you know. He's had his passport lifted and everything else like that. So 
when we decided to get married this was the only place I could think 
of, so I went and talked to Fritchman and he said he would marry us. 
Christinas morning we went to his church and were married/' 

Six months later they moved into a big apartment hotel in another 
part of Los Angeles, a run-down place in a mixed neighborhood 
tenanted by prostitutes, musicians, dope dealers "and the vice 
squad," Tanya adds, with a wry smile. "Two vice squad guys had taken 
an apartment there, sub rosa, to spy on everybody. The musicians 
spotted them right off, but some of the others didn't. One prostitute 
got busted. I liked the atmosphere, everybody visiting freely back and 
forth. It was something like a social life and I got along well with 
everybody, better with the men than with the women, as I always 
have, and best of all with the musicians. Some of these people were 
heroin addicts, some were marijuana smokers, but I got along with all 
of them. Everybody was pushing as well as using more or less. Well, 
they weren't really dealers, the building was too hot for that, but 
they'd get together and make a joint purchase. Richard dealt in pot 
while we were there. So did I. I worked all the time on a job, but 
Richard wasn't working and I really didn't earn enough on the job to 
buy groceries and everything and go to the movies and buy books and 
records, and keep ourselves supplied with pot and all our friends that 
kept dropping in. The first time I smoked pot and the first chance I got 
at heroin I took to them like a duck to water. I had found my element." 



Venice West: 

Life and Love Among the Ruins 



ITCHY GELDEN WAS GETTING MABBIED. THE GIRL, GILDA LEWIS, WAS A 
new chick in the sense that she had only recently made the inner circle 
of the "community," although she had been living in Venice for two 
years or more and dropping in at the more open, public type parties. 
Poetry readings and such. She and Itchy had been making it for several 
months in a store-front pad and she thought it would be nice if they 
got married. Angel Dan Davies had volunteered to write the marriage 
service, a hymeneal ritual poem, and the wedding ceremony was to 
take place on Venice Beach, at night. 

It wasn't anybody's idea in particular, a poetry wedding service by 
the ocean at night; everybody had heard about such unofficial cere 
monies. Tanya Bromberger told of a couple she knew that got married 
on top of a mountain somewhere in Idaho "'alone, just the two of 
them, a million miles from nowhere, man, was that a gas!*" Chris Nel 
son said he'd always thought it would be great to get married in the 
Fun House on the Ocean Park Amusement Pier, but his wife wouldn't 
go for it. Gilda herself had suggested a Buddhist temple wedding at 
first; she knew somebody who had gotten married in the Buddhist 
temple in Los Angeles the man was brought up a Catholic and the 
girl was Jewish, and they didn't want a priest or a rabbi, so they settled 
for a Buddhist ceremony. But Itchy wanted something closer to the 
kind of primitive ritual we had been discussing so much lately and 

70 



VENICE WEST: LIFE AND LOVE AMONG THE KUINS 71 

everybody agreed that in Venice it had to be the ocean, what else? 
Hadn't the Doges of Venice married the sea every year with a ring? 
Crazy! 

We were walking along the seashore, Itchy Gelden and I, on our 
way to Angel's pad. The Venice ocean front land's end for the old 
people who came to it, and the promise of a fresh beginning for the 
young who could accept the challenge of sea as Itchy and Gilda were 
promising themselves to do. Not in the sun but at midnight, for the 
night seemed more in keeping with the pagan, lunar thing they wanted 
their love-union to be. Morning weddings, noon weddings, that was 
for squares. For the hip, for the cats, nothing but midnight would do. 
They were the night people. 

Itchy looked out across the sandy beach and blinked at the bright 
sunlight over the ocean. The light of day or any bright house-lighting 
hurt his eyes a common complaint among pot heads and other 
narcotics users yet despite the example of many jazz musicians, he 
was not wearing sunglasses. He was in one of his barefoot, barebreast 
Nature Boy moods, and any kind of glasses seemed unnatural. 

"You know what?" he said. "It's gonna be like going back home to 
mama to ask for her blessing. I mean the real mama, the ocean, the 
mama of the whole race of man. And this bit of me marrying the ocean 
with a ring. You know what this fe, man? It's the old Oedipus bit, 
ain't it? Incest! But, hey, man, I just happen to think - what is it gonna 
be for Gilda?" He puzzled over that for a minute. "Yeh, I know, she's 
marrying her old man, the old man of the sea. Crazy!" He walked along 
silently after that, and I could see that he was pondering the solemnity 
of the idea and the godlike feeling it gave him to think he was cast for 
such a role. He had come out of his usual slouch and was walking 
ramrod erect. He must have felt ten feet tall, and he wasn't potted up, 

either. 

When we got there, Angel was just putting the last touches to the 
epithalamium that was to conclude the marriage service. Itchy wanted 
to see the whole thing but Angel had mislaid some of the pages -he 
had been tossing them over his shoulder onto the floor as they came 
from his typewriter and they had gotten buried somewhere under a 
debris of soiled sweat shirts, old magazines, books, scrap paper, 
scribbled notes, half-nibbled sandwiches and the children s toys - but 
he was sure they would turn up in time, Margot was going to straighten 



72 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

up the whole pad as soon as he could get her up out of bed. He was 
. afraid she was flipping, sleeping twelve, fourteen hours a day, and 
saying and doing the craziest things, "y u know, far out but, like, 
man you got to come back'' and Margot wasn't coming back enough. 
More and more she was losing contact with reality and it scared him. 
When Itchy started to poke around in the mess on the floor in an 
effort to find the missing pages, Angel flew into one of the screaming 
rages he liked to affect. 

"Don't touch a thing! I know just where everything is, damn it!" 

He did know, too, for he was there on the beach at the appointed 
time with his manuscript intact. Margot was with him, looking fresh 
and rested and no more disturbed mentally than anybody else in the 
party. 

I later learned that Gilda had made a last-minute attempt to interest 
a young "liberal" rabbi in reading the marriage service Angel had 
written and the rabbi agreed, but when he asked about the marriage 
license and was told there wasn't going to be any, he declined. Gilda 
and Dave agreed that her three legal marriages and his two were 
enough of a compromise with conventional mores and the unnatural 
self -assumed powers of the State. 

The marriage rites were impressive, very moving at times, and Angel 
read the service in a voice that fitted the moon-and-sea mood of the 
occasion and sometimes matched the decible-count of the surf. 

Here was an atmosphere that no State would ever think to provide. 
Churches have their dramaturgy, their stage settings for such occasions, 
and poetry of a sort, but it is always a room-confined, set-piece kind 
of thing. Here it was no rule book routine. We were observing Ezra 
Pound's advice to poets: Make it NEW1 It was a full moon, but a moon 
that had never been full before, not like this. Taken as a totality it 
was a scene that had never been enacted before and would never 
happen again. It had the uniqueness of presence. Stars. Moon shadows. 
A unique moment in time. Far off on the southern headlands the lights 
of moving traffic marched in slow processional, and to the north, the 
highway lamps of the coast road to Malibu were strung like tiny 
pearls, clear out to the Point. 

Angel's lines were like the liquid arms of the sea herself, embracing 
the land, advancing, wavering, withdrawing. His voice intoned the 
lines and the sea answered him. The original idea had been that the 



VENICE WEST: LIFE AND LOVE AMONG THE RUINS 73 

bride and groom would be naked for the occasion and that was the 
way it stayed in the script, but it was a cold night so they settled for 
bathing suits with wraps over them for added warmth during most of 
the ceremony. The "rebirth baptism of love" in the sea that the service 
called for was a shuddering few seconds of foot-splashing in the surf. 
But it was all there in the poem and everybody was satisfied that the 
word the magic word of the ritual was all that really counted. 
Only the ring ceremony was carried out with literal observance of the 
text. The ring, as Angel had prescribed in his poem, was a wreath of 
flowers. The inshore sea wind blew it back onto the sand on the first 
two tries but Gilda picked it up on the third try and managed to fling 
it far enough out into the sea to satisfy the requirements of the symbol, 
although there was a good deal of discussion afterward about whether 
there was any significance to the fact that it was Gilda and not Dave 
who had finally consummated the sea-marriage, and what that signified 
psychologically, and what it portended for their future. 

The closing epithalamium was a little too long and by the time it 
was over the fog was rolling in and everybody was dripping wet by 
the time we got back to Angel's pad, where the wedding party was to 
be celebrated. At the last minute it was discovered that somebody had 
goofed and forgotten to go after the can of marijuana that was waiting 
to be picked up from the connection in East Los Angeles. After frantic 
telephoning from the corner drugstore telephone booth Angel's tel 
ephone had been disconnected for nonpayment of his bill Tanya 
and Richard were located and promised to pick up the pot, ending 
what had threatened to become a major crisis. They didn't show up, 
though, until around two o'clock. 

A minor crisis earlier in the party was getting Gilda's aunt and uncle 
and a couple of teen-age cousins to go home before the party got going. 
Gilda had impulsively invited them to attend the beach ceremony, 
perhaps in a belated effort to give some look of legitimacy to the 
proceedings after all, Gilcla was still more of a candidate than an 
initiate and had conventional hang-overs from the past. We were all 
surprised when they showed up; nobody was aware that Gilda had any 
relatives on the West Coast. They were no trouble at all at the service, 
except that Auntie cried too much and at all the wrong times, but after 
all, they were squares and it was hoped they would get in their car 
and go home after the ceremony. Instead they tagged along to Angel's 



74 THE HOLY BABBARIANS 

pad. Auntie made herself useful right away, picking up the children's 
toys off the floor where they were a peril to life and limb and tidying 
up the place a little. It took the combined strategy of all the hipsters 
present to deal with the situation before Gilda's relatives were finally 
chivvied out of the pad without hurting their feelings too much or 
spoiling the party for the bride. 

Now the phonograph was turned full up Auntie had been turning 
it down every time she got near it, certain that nobody could want 
music on that loud. The occasion seemed to call for funky music. 
Usually, it was Thelonious Monk, Chico Hamilton, Miles Davis and 
the Modern Jazz Quartet at Angel's pad. That night it was Louis Arm 
strong, Coleman Hawkins, Stuff Smith. Richard had promised on the 
phone to bring along some old Bessie Smith seventy-eights and other 
old-time blues greats. 

I picked up Angel's marriage poem and started to read it. It read 
pretty well on paper, even without the emotions of the scene, the moon 
and the sea, and the sound of the waves. Itchy had squatted down on 
the floor beside me and was picking up the pages as I laid them aside, 
reading them, too. 

He shook his head admiringly. "The good God sure enough laid his 
voice on that cat," he commented. "It swings, like a good piece of ass. 
He must have been loaded for sure when he wrote this passage" and 
he read aloud the verses that had accompanied the ring ceremony. In 
Itchy's high, almost falsetto voice, the poetry lacked the force Angel 
had put into it. 

"Does pot help you to write?" I asked him. 

"Yeh." He smiled. "Mary Juana is my muse." 

"But youVe written without pot, too/' 

"Yeh, man, like I've got piles of the stuff. Like IVo written in the 
Johns in the airplane plant. I used to sit in the Johns writing poetry on 
toilet paper." 

"When I was around your age," I said, "we used to work for a while, 
at anything, and save all we could buying time, we called it. You 
didn't think it was wrong, stealing time, writing on the boss* time?** 

"It wasn't stealing, I was just getting my own, I was bom in theft 
In the congregation of thieves. The arch thieves are the ones who put 
down the most bullshit Now I make it any way I can and the hell with it*" 

The conversation turned to the events of the evening and, as usual, 



VENICE WEST : LIFE AND LOVE AMONG THE RUINS 75 

to religion. There had been no religious training in Itchy's home. 
Neither his mother nor his father went to synagogue. The first time his 
mother spoke to him about religion was only recently and then she 
came up with some stuff about Jesus and the saving blood of Christ 
that she had picked up from one of those "Mission to the Jews" street 
corner preachers. The missionary had used some badly garbled He 
brew words and said he was once a Jew and now he was saved. She 
not only believed him but she knew so little about the Jewish religion 
that "she got an idea like this cat was a rabbi! and this was the reli 
gion of the real ancient Jews of the Jerusalem temple that she'd some 
how missed out on. Like I guess she feels she's getting real close to 
death, and it shook her. But she always was superstitious, like Tolstoy's 
peasants, you know. Like she says, T. had a dream last night' or 1 had a 
dream last week.* She believes that because she dreams something and 
it comes true she has seen a vision. The vision of a seer or something. 
She feels like because she had three children and none of them have 
become great in her value system she has to reinforce her ego and 
say like Tm a seer' or Tm in the know/ like Tm somebody' " 

"And your father * 

"Well, my father was like a sort of a hype, in a way. The kind of a 
cat who thinks like the animals the family man goes out and hunts 
and he brings back the meat for the family, like the food and the cloth 
ing and the loot to go for vacations in the country, and shit like that. 
He didn't make any loot in the synagogue, so what's the percentage in 
going to the synagogue?" 

His parents' value judgments, he went on to tell me, were strictly 
money. "... like, she has the viewpoint like you can't be straight unless 
you got loot. Like if you haven't got loot you are going to be hassled 
" he paused, turning the thing over in his mind. "Like it's true, it's 
real. You are hassled if you haven't got loot. But what do I have to do 
to get loot? I got to hustle." 

Hustle is a word Itchy always uses for work, any kind of paid-for 
work. Notice that it is a word borrowed from whores and pimps 
who, in turn, borrowed it from pedlars and door-to-door canvassers. 
(During the boom twenties it lost its derogatory connotations and was 
being used quite honorably for all selling.) To Dave Gelden it ap 
parently meant what it has always meant to the hoboes something 
not necessarily evil in itself, something that might be all right for other 



76 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

people, if they liked working, but for him a necessary evil to be en 
dured only if there was no way out of it. Working was something you 
did to make living possible, and if you did too much of it too often you 
had no time for living, so what was the sense of it? Then it was like 
rehearsing for a play that would never be played; there was never any 
real worthwhile pay-off, only promises that would never be met, "a 
real shuck." 

"My mother wants me to change, everyone wants me to change, 
everyone wants to make the world in their own image. Like if you 
don't pick up on their kick well they try to hip you." 

I asked, "Do you think Gilda is going to try and change you, make 
you hold down a steady job and have children?" 

He shook his head to stop me, to let me know I was saying the 
wrong thing in the wrong place; then he got up and motioned to me 
to follow him. The sound of music and talk was deafening more and 
more people had been dropping in for the party but when he opened 
the bedroom door where the two Davies children were sleeping, they 
didn't even stir in their sleep. They had been conditioned from birth to 
sleep through anything, once you got them to sleep, which wasn't al 
ways easy. What Itchy had to tell me was something of a secret. He 
shut the door behind us and his voice was almost a whisper as he went on. 

"You see, the first chick I ever fell in love with, like that was her 
scene. Her mother first sounded me on it, like, *Why don't you try 
writing? Look at all the money there is in it/ Like if I made it with the 
big magazines or a book maybe I'd be a good provider for her daugh 
ter. She'd been reading those success stories, I guess, about rich, 
famous authors. Even poetry why not, didn't Edgar Guest make it? 
Like she'd seen pictures of this palatial pad the cat had m a swanky 
Detroit suburb, right in there with the automobile magnates. I was 
twenty-two then and this chick she was seventeen or eighteen, She 
wanted me to be a writer, too, but like she wanted a family,, too. So I 
got this state job and the first crack out of the box hah! box, get it? 
she's pregnant. So I just walked out of that hassle. I was real broke 
up behind that scene though. I felt very drug, like I thought of killing 
myself, I hated myself, Like I felt here was a chick that really dug me 
and I couldn't make it with her. So the next time I got married " 

**How soon after was that?" 

"It was about two and a half years ago and the scene was like the 



VENICE WEST: LIFE AND LOVE AMONG THE RUINS 77 

first chick she got a quiet divorce and kept the kid and all and this 
new chick she was a doll. I could do anything I want, go to school on 
the GI bill I still had it coming to me if I wanted to pick up on it 
or work or not work she had a good job, so crazy! Only one thing 
she didn't want any children. She was very possessive, see, and may 
be she didn't want any competition. Anyway, I really dug this chick 
and I didn't want to lose her. So I went to a doctor and had myself 
sterilized.*' 

A burst of Bessie Smith blues through the closed door told us that 
Tanya and Richard had arrived with the can of pot. Dave leaped up 
and I followed him into the living room. Everybody was already busy 
rolling the brown-paper cigarettes. Tanya was showing somebody how 
to roll a cigarette with one hand, a trick she said she had picked up 
from a cat in Phoenix who had it from a cowboy hobo who still rolled 
his own from a Bull Durham sack. 

It was a ritual, like the Indian tobacco pipe, and everybody was 
expected to take at least a ceremonial suck on the weed, but I was 
exempted from it by a kind of special dispensation. I was the shaman 
of the tribe this was the title Angel had bestowed on me and that 
made it official. I had once shown Angel an illustration in Jane Har 
rison's Prolegomena to the Studij of Greek Religion. It pictured Diony 
sus "as the Athenians cared to know him," said Miss Harrison, and she 
went on to describe the picture. "The strange mad Satyrs are twisted 
and contorted to make exquisite patterns, they clash their frenzied 
crotala and wave great vine branches. But in the midst of the revel 
the god himself stands erect. He holds no kantharos, only a great lyre, 
his head is thrown back in ecstacy; he is drunken, but with music, not 
with wine." No castanets or sacred baskets for Dionysus, no wine. He 
could get drunk on poetry and music. Then and there Angel decided 
that the shaman was a member in good standing of the fraternity of 
pot even if he never turned on with the gang. 

Along with others I hung around with in the twenties, I had in 
dulged in marijuana, but in those days it was a Saturday night party 
kick. It was legal and you could buy it anywhere. Muggles we called 
the marijuana cigarettes, and tea, and most of the boys who used it on 
weekdays as well were painters. They said it heightened their color 
sense. I sampled opium, too, in those days, and liked it, but I knew 
what hazards it held and was satisfied to let it go at that. I have always 



78 THE HOLY BAKBARIANS 

been able to get high on poetry, music or sex stimulation just good 
conversation is often enough to make it for me so that I have been 
able to fit right in with alcoholics and narcotics addicts of any kind 
without having to take the stuff myself. 

Soon the air was filled with the sweet narcotic smell of pot and 
everybody was swinging. None of the boozy sentimentalizing that 
makes the parties of lushes such a bore, nor the brooding or belligerence 
that afflicts heavy drinkers. Sitting around cross-legged on the floor 
rolling their sticks of "tea," they looked like a ring of kindergarteners 
playing with finger paints. 

You would never think anything so innocent looking as this could 
be illegal, but consciousness of the heat breathing down their necks 
was never wholly absent. The heat, the fuzz, at any moment there 
might be a rap at the door. If the stuff was found in your house you 
were responsible under the law, even if you were not a user yourself 
and only indulging your guests. The penalties were always being made 
more severe and judges were meting out stiffer sentences. If the cops 
happened to find a roach on some juvenile delinquent who had staged 
a holdup or committed some stupid act of violence, the whole thing 
was promptly blamed on marijuana and the police cracked down all 
over town. You might be sitting around with friends enjoying the hi-fi 
or listening to somebody read his poems and the next thing you know 
the cops could arrive and hustle you off to jail as a criminal. There had 
been such incidents recently, so the air was charged with a sense of 
danger that night. You could sense it under the gaiety, though unusual 
precautions were taken. The doors were kept locked, the window 
shades drawn. When enough cigarettes had been rolled, Angel carried 
the rest of the can of pot outside and concealed it behind some loose 
boards under the house. That way, he figured, it couldn't legally be 
said to constitute evidence of possession or **ont the premises." 

Everybody had a different notion of the legal technicalities involved, 
and about what to do in case the heat showed up. How to dispose of 
a roach some said you could swallow it without any serious harm to 
your insides. Some were for tossing the evidence of "holding** out the 
window, the way some users were reputed to have foiled the fuzz by 
tossing marijuana cigarettes out of cars when they wore stopped by 
traffic cops. You were clean, they said, as long as they didn't find it 
on you, as long as you weren't "holding/* 



VENICE WEST: LIFE AND LOVE AMONG THE RUINS 79 

Everybody present had heard all these theories before. It was old 
stuff but it gave them a sense of readiness to talk about it. Verbalizing 
the possibilities seemed to act like a kind of homeopathic magic against 
anything happening. Once it had been talked about they dismissed it 
from their minds. All except the bride who had herself a crying jag 
in the kitchen "What if we should get busted tonight and we had to 
spend our wedding night in jail!" Chuck Bennison made a funny crack 
about the Law robbing poor Itchy of jus primae noctis, the right of 
the first night, with his virgin bride, and that sent her into an uncon 
trollable laughing jag. All very uncool. Just what you'd expect of some 
one only beginning to make the scene and not hip yet to what being 
cool means. 

That was Tanya's verdict. "If you want to belong you've got to ex 
pect to pay your dues. It's very unhip to bawl and carry on about it, 
even "before it happens. The squares and their cops are always out 
there, laying for us. The squares are afraid of pot. They've got it tied 
up in their minds with the breaking down of inhibitions and taboos. 
They're afraid of poetry, which they connect up in their fears with 
free love. They're afraid of jazz. To them it means like Bessie Smith 
was singing in that blues song you just heard, Empty Bed Blues it 
means the kind of sex that 'almost takes my breath away' and 'makes 
me wring my hands and cry' and that ain't nothin' like the square way 
of lovin', man. It isn't their dimity curtain, candlewick bedspread kind 
of love. Like my hip doctor told me yesterday, "What are the three 
most overrated things in the world? Home cooking, home fucking and 
Mayo surgery.' I don't know about Mayo surgery, but man he sure hit 
it right on the other two shucks." 

Holiness? Crazy, man! But you can flip your wig on it. 

For months Angel Dan Davies had been turning himself inside out 
in a search for the "original meaning" of communal love and the con 
cept of holiness. With the driving intensity that marked all his spiritual 
and esthetic adventures, he had been re-examining all his basic assump 
tions, his relations with everybody he knew "Is it really love or am 
I just shucking myself?" and delving into his own past in a kind of 
autoanalysis. And drawing everybody around him into it with him. 
The solitary labors of the soul were not for Angel. He had to have 



80 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

others suffering with him, taking the same risks and sharing with him 
his moments of vision. He thrived on it, but his wife Margot was 
beginning to crack up. The long, sleepless night hours of orgiastic sex 
and spiritual self-examination were too much for her. More and more 
every day lately she showed signs of losing touch with reality. At first, 
Angel had been reporting to me that Margot was at last beginning to 
see eye to eye with him inner eye, that is and this was saving his 
marriage, which was always on the verge of breaking up. That she 
was beginning to understand him at last and to share his quest of the 
numinous, his search for love and holiness. But now it had gotten out 
of hand. She was saying and doing things that scared him. For one 
thing, she was turning elsewhere for the answers, away from him to 
others, and this was a bad sign. 

I knew what he meant. Margot was waiting at my door one morning 
when I returned from picking up my mail at the Venice Post Office. 
She looked like the wrath of Medusa, flushed and manic, her flaming 
red hair in a tangle, her eyes bloodshot with a wild look in them. Her 
voice when she spoke was strangely, frighteningly calm, childlike, a 
little-lost-girl voice "Can I come in, please? You won't mind? I had 
to see you " 

I let her in and she threw herself on the living room divan at once 
and curled up in an embryonic posture. The light hurt her eyes, she 
said. I lowered the window shades. All she wanted to do was rest, she 
whispered. Just rest and sleep, "just to be here," I suggested a sedative 
but she shook her head and smiled dreamily, as if she were just on 
the point of dropping off to sleep. 

I breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn't going to be such a mess, after 
all. I went into my study to read my morning mail and answer a few 
letters perhaps. When I tiptoed back into the living room half an hour 
later for a look at Margot before settling down to work, she was sitting 
propped up against the cushions* Blouse, slip, bra and panties were 
scattered far and wide over the floor where she had flung them, in 
what must have been a piece-by-piece stripping act of solitary abandon. 
The only thing she had on was a short skirt and that was hiked up 
over her knees. She gave me a sideways glance and her face had the 
little-lost-girl look again, but her voice was tremulous now, desperate* 

"You can help me, Larry. I know you can help me. Like youVe been 
helping Dan. We've been making a swinging scene every night, Far 



VENICE WEST: LIFE AND LOVE AMONG THE RUINS 81 

out! But I can't seem to come back. Like I do things ... I don't know 
why I do them. And I just can't stop! You've got to help me come 
down . . . come out of it." 

I picked her things up off the floor and laid them beside her on the 
divan, hoping she would take the hint. I was pretty sure Angel was 
running around all over Venice looking for her. These disappearances 
of hers had become frequent of late. Angel had told me about it, how 
he would come home and find she had gone off without leaving a note 
or anything, or how he would stir out of sleep in the early morning 
hours, after a night of pot, sex, Benzedrine and mystical self-searchings 
with Margot, to find she had gotten up without waking him and disap 
peared. Sometimes friends would call him up to tell him where they 
had seen her, or he would trace her to the home of someone they had 
both met only the night before perhaps. In a couple of cases it was 
Lesbians she had run off to. 

Now I was getting the story from Margot. It poured out of her 
breathlessly. Sex was the creative principle of the universe . . . what 
were the vestal virgins but mystical brides of the gods . . . Bacchus . . . 
Priapus . . . Dionysus . . . the Shechina, the feminine emanation of 
Jehovah, hovering over the marriage bed on the Sabbath night . . . the 
agape, the early Christian love feast what was it but communal love 
in its pure orgastic form . . . faked up by the Church into Christian 
fellowship with Sunday chicken and dumplings . . . the vaginal chalice 
and the phallic cross sublimated into empty ceremonials . . . and isn't 
it a fact that the gods were conceived of in their pure primitive form 
as androgynous , . . hermaphroditic? . . . and isn't it just a taboo, this 
prejudice against homosexuals and Lesbians? . . . and wasn't Henry 
Miller right when he wrote and Andr< Gide and Pierre Gordon in 
his book Sex and Religion which I had loaned Dan to read and which 
they had dipped into together and talked about . . . how else was one 
to experience the numinous enlightenment . . . nirvana . . . satori . . . 
except by going far out? . . . the irrational . . . wasn't that the whole 
idea? . . . and how could you know in these other ways of knowing 
unless you explored your unconscious . . . disassociated . . . broke up, 
and through, and beyond ... far out . . . through pain . . . through 
sex ... through pot . . . Benezedrine . . . anything . . . everything? . . . 
since the whole idea was to experience holiness . , . the beatific vision 
. , . orgastic release . . . the crucifixion of the flesh . . . "but how do I 



82 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

get back now? What do I do to slow up, to stop, to sleep? ..." 

It all had a familiar ring, but distorted. My own words coming back 
to me like an echo, but twisted, like sound under water might be 
imagined in the mind's ear. The early Christian agape, the love feast, 
transmogrified into a community gang-shag. The hierogamy, torn out 
of its tribal, communal context and narrowed to the bedroom proportions 
of a folie CL deux. The asexuality of the gods distorted into multi- 
sexuality. And the omnisexuality of the primitive animistic religions 
divorced from all communal functions or utility and established as the 
rationale of a private ritual, a neurosis that could become dangerously 
psychopathic. 

I tried explaining this to Margot but it was soon clear to me that 
she was already too withdrawn for any logical reasoning, although it 
was probably not too late for psychoanalytical therapy; but I was cer 
tainly not going to be the one to tamper with parlor analysis. Not in 
this case, anyway, 

I gave her a book to read while I slipped out the back door and 
hurried over to Angel's pad. He had been everywhere looking for her 
and was frantic with anxiety. I told him what had happened and together 
we returned to my place. The divan was tidied up, smoothed down, 
the cushions shaken out and propped up innocently, almost primly, 
against the wall. There wasn't a sign of feminine clothing around, not 
so much as a bobby pin. And Margot was gone. 

"But he'd been there? man, and he blew, and he flew, 
man, like high!' 

It was the mad season in Venice West. Tilings were happening and 
if you were really with it you couldn't show it any better than by flip- 
ping your wig. Or at least pretending to. Flips and more flips. And 
rumors of flips. "Did you know So-and-So was wigging?'" "I was with 
So-and-So last night and, Oh, man, is he flipping!" It began to take on 
the aspects of an epidemic. If you were flipping yoxi became the center 
of attention for a few days, Some couldn't resist the temptation to 
simulate the symptoms. It was BO disgrace to be flipping. It was 
definitely the hip thing to do. Hadn't Carl Solomon flipped his wig? 
Wasn't Bird Parker a Camarillo case for a while? Hadn't Allen Gins- 
berg been to the laughing academy? 

The square never flipped; he became withdrawn, a case of mental 



VENICE WEST: LIFE AND LOVE AMONG THE RUINS 83 

depression born of boredom and frustration. Something he feared and 
couldn't face. What was there about the square's rat race or his tepid 
love affairs that was worth a stretch at Camarillo or Bellevue? 

When the hipster went off the deep end it was a death-defying no, 
a death-wooing dive off the high board. It was poetry in action. 
Stuart Z. Perkoff catches the "far out" flip in his poem Bird; 

frenetic dancer 

weaving out of the darkness between 
the buildings 
blowing high & screaming in. ... 

they relaxed him at Camarillo 

sent him out 

but he did not cool . . . 

what about that horror, man? 
what about that pain? 
what about that cat, like all the time 
trying to do himself in, lushing, 
hyping, insane fucking, no sleep 
no eat just blow blow blow 
farther and farther out tearing finger from hand, 

eye 

from skull, sound from throat, leaving bleeding 
chunks of Bird caught in the teeth of many 

sessions, 

what about that? . . . 
but he'd been there, man 
& he blew 
& he flew, man 
like 
high 

The far-out flip is a gamble for high stakes. It is the descent into Hell. 
Orpheus in Hades. The cool cat may flip if he goes too far out, but he 
is expected to pull out of it, to come down from his high, to come back, 
just as the jazz musician always comes back to the theme on which he 
is improvising. The idea is the traditional one of the hero and his 
journey perilous. 

Chuck Bennison was on a make-believe flip. Perhaps he felt that as 



84 THE HOLY BARBAKIANS 

a newcomer to the scene it was incumbent upon him to exhibit the 
symptoms of contagion. It might hasten his complete acceptance into 
the inner circle of the initiated. Despite his abandonment of alcohol 
in favor of pot, he still felt that he was being treated in some pads like 
a novice, if not an outsider. 

Like most converts, his zeal led him to overdo it a little. He would 
sit on the floor swaying back and forth to the beat of a jazz record, eyes 
closed, face contorted with agony-ecstacy. Then suddenly he would 
utter a cry, fall back on the floor, roll over on his face and stay there 
in a pretty good imitation of a catatonic seizure. When he came out 
of it he had stories of strange visions, "other levels of reality." 

I was riding with Chuck one day, in a car he had borrowed from his 
mother, when he was suddenly smitten with the gift of tongues. At 
least that is what it might have sounded like to any true believer of 
the lunatic fringe religions, but I was able to make enough sense out of 
it to suspect that he was putting on a show for my benefit. What he 
was doing was improvising by free association, or rather free dissocia 
tion. He was blowing a riff on a tune that was familiar to me, the 
Jungian archetypes. His hand on the wheel was steady, although the 
one he gestured with shook violently. When I had had enough of it I 
said, "Okay, cut out the crap, Chuck. Snap out of it," and he did, turn 
ing to me with a sheepish smile. I said no more about it, but he re 
turned to the subject later, explaining that my demand that he snap 
out of it had "broken the magic circle." Chuck always had an explana 
tion for everything. When he fell into contradictions he could explain 
that, too. "Different levels of reality . . , like, everything is true and 
everything is untrue, depending on the level of reality on which you 
happen to be at the moment." Some of our Venetians expressed concern 
over "poor Chuck" and there were times when I, too, thought he 
might be stepping over the line, but Nettie assured me he was all 
right. "As long as he continues to show up around dinnertime there's 
nothing to worry about," she said. "As the psychiatrists say, he is still 
oriented as to time and place." 

The only time during the flip epidemic that Chuck Bcnnison failed 
to drop in around dinnertime not that he wasn't always welcome 
was when I asked him to distribute some posters advertising a poetry 
and jazz concert. That time he vanished for a week. When I got wor 
ried about him and the posters I started out to find him, It took 



VENICE WEST: LIFE AND LOVE AMONG THE RUINS 85 

some shrewd detective work. When I did locate him the posters were 
still stashed away in the trunk of the car and he was contrite about his 
failure to come through on his little errand, but as usual he had an 
explanation. This time it was the Muse that had waylaid him. He had 
the poem to show for it, too, an opus thirty pages long and as dis 
sociated and far out as anyone could wish. It was, like so much of 
Chuck's work, "only a preliminary outline." The completed work was 
to run to something like a thousand pages, divided into twelve major 
books corresponding to the signs of the zodiac, and these, in turn, 
divided into three hundred and sixty-five cantos, one for each day in 
the year with an extra canto for leap years, the whole to be illustrated 
with colored drawings on which he had been working like mad for 
days. That the divine frenzy should have taken possession of him so 
irresistibly just when he had some posters to distribute he ex 
plained very convincingly. He had now reached that stage in his en 
lightenment where any material or commercial demands on him set 
up a protective defense reaction that drove him even farther out in the 
quest for other realities. That night he showed up in time for dinner 
without any serious setback, apparently, in his quest of other realities. 

When Itchy Gelden flipped, it was gently, innocently, like a child 
lost in fairy tale land. Normally his conversation was spiced with 
occasional moments of prophetic doom, condemnations of social in 
justice and political skulduggery. Now everything was holy. Everybody 
was a lost child with him in a wild and wonderful wilderness where 
there was neither good nor evil. He had passed beyond good and evil. 
He spoke little and slept much. He tiptoed around sniffing at flowers, 
gazing at the sea and sky, picking up driftwood and brooding over it 
like Hamlet over poor Yorick's skull, but more gently. He sought out 
all those to whom he had ever spoken a word in anger and asked their 
forgiveness, as if the world were coming to an end and he wanted to 
be right with God at the final judgment. 

Both he and Chuck had been conducting seances of a sort with Phil 
Trattman at Phil's pad. Phil was having wife trouble. He hadn't 
touched his ax in months. (Any jazz instrument is an "ax" in Phil's 
case, the bass.) He was stoned out of his mind with pot night and 
day, often forgetting to eat or dress himself or go out of the house to 
shop for groceries. The only thing he seemed able to put his mind to 
was bits of wire, string and metal He was making mobiles. He wek 



86 THE HOLY BAKBABIANS 

corned the company of Chuck and Itchy, however. Unlike Itchy, who 
could sleep eighteen hours a day during a flip, Phil suffered from 
insomnia. Suffered is the wrong word for it. He reveled in insomnia. 
Chuck, too, was nocturnal. And the three of them were joined fre 
quently by poet-painter Don Berney. 

Picture the scene. If you fell into the pad after six o'clock in the 
evening you had to come in by way of a basement door in the rear, 
because the street entrance led through a plaster of Paris shop whose 
owner was so afraid somebody might sneak into her "studio" that she 
locked it up front and back when she went home at night. You had to 
go down a short flight of stairs in the rear and through a cellar to 
another flight of stairs that led up to Phil's pad in back of the shop. 
Aside from this and the fact that there was only one window, the pad 
was ideal. The rent was only twenty a month. Phil's arrangement with 
the weirdie who ran the shop was that he would help her mix batches 
of plaster which were too heavy for her to handle and act as night 
watchman. How he was expected to get into the shop at night if he 
ever heard a prowler or, for that matter, what there was for anybody 
to steal, outside of a few plaster Kewpie dolls that you could buy in 
any souvenir joint for a dollar, was never quite clear to anybody, least 
of all to Phil, who didn't care; and the proprietress was too lost in 
plaster and biblical numerology to give it any thought, I suppose. It 
was the biblical numerology that had brought them together in the 
first place. She offered Phil the back room at a low rental she had 
no use for it anyway as a kind of love offering to a kindred soul on 
the astral plane. 

Phil had hung the peeling plaster walls with driftwood and old 
fish nets. There were two mattresses on the floor, $an$ springs, and a 
couple of small hassocks. He had never gotten around to providing 
bookshelves for his books, mostly paperbacks and thin quarterlies, so 
they were stacked up on the floor or set up against the wall with any 
thing of proper weight and size for book ends, A three-burner gas plate 
set up on the soapstonc top of an old commode was cookstove and 
heating unit combined, and the washbowl in the comer served as the 
sink. The cupboard where the chamber pot was once stored doubled 
as pantry and a place to stash away his few dishes and cooking utensils. 
The old-fashioned icebox rarely had any ice in it; Phil used it mainly 



VENICE WEST: LIFE AND LOVE AMONG THE RUINS 87 

for his mobile materials, tools, paints and miscellaneous items. Not 
much for comfort, but the odds justified the ends, according to Phil's 
view, and the ends he had in view were not so much material as 
spiritual. The pad had no bath or shower but it had the only toilet in 
the place. Presumably the proprietress, who never used it, had risen 
above such material needs on her astral plane. 

One of Phil's seances started on a cold, wet night with the whole 
ocean front fogged in, one of those impenetrable white fogs as thick 
as cotton batting. The open burners of the gas plate, all three of them 
full up and flaming like torches, made the big room as warm as a steam 
bath but short on oxygen. They also provided the only light there was, 
an eerie effect of flickering grotesques and tortured shadows. What 
the air lacked in oxygen it made up in marijuana fumes. 

I missed most of the session it ran on into the next two days and 
nights but the Venice West poet Charles Foster, who was present 
and stayed on to the end, gave me a precis of the proceedings in the 
form of a poem outline "on the general theme: Knowledge and love 
are one, and the measure is suffering." 

"Three a.m. Friday morning. Phil, working on mobiles, explains why 
he is afraid to flip out. Chuck says: 'If you're going to flip, man, flip. 
Makeit!' 

"The biblical Job, The Artist. Murder. The Androgynous Creator." 

Most of the talk on the first night, I gather from the precis was on 
these topics. Only it isn't called talk in hip circles. It is "communica 
tion" and "relating." From what I heard of it before leaving, it must 
have been on a high level of awareness, as it usually is on such occasions. 

"Hamlet. The Businessman. Psychosis. The Father Sex in thought 

and action. . . . Alcoholism as a way of life to adjust to life to ???. 
Oedipus. The Lover. Money. The Mother." 

Some of this, Foster explained, was only in his own thoughts as the 
session went on, and in the form of notes to be worked into his pro 
jected poem. 

"Thelonious Monk. Don attempting to accompany on drums. . . . 



88 THE HOLY BARBAHIANS 

Three persons: the man divided within is thereby divided from others, 
& out of contact with the music. 

"Huddy Leadbelly. Bongo drums. Modern Man. 

"Saturday. Marijuana, Description of the sickness. 

"Blow: what paranoid schizophrenia feels like: utter isolation from 
others & fear & suspicion of them . . . fear of self's actions ... the 
walls . . . too many levels, too many thoughts, too many worlds & 
strange dimensions, too much reality & it all shifts and changes too 
fast . . . the crushing weight of the reality of metaphor & the over 
powering multiphastic simultaneous life of metaphor or symbol on 
all the levels . . . the fear; there is no place to find firm ground even 
for a second; no frame of reference . . . the physical sensations . . . 
suicide & murder . . . loss of any feeling of insight into the self . . . dis 
torted memory of events right after they happen . . . impossibility of 
communication. 

"Is this sanity or insanity; a distortion of the dynamics operating 
intra- & inter-personally or a true understanding of them, for the 
first time? Even though George (Foster's name for the hero in the 
precis ) is quite aware that he is in a state called psychotic, he is also 
convinced that his perceptions of the nature of normal reality are true. 
This is more painful to him than the acceptance of his perceptions as 
delusory would be. ... 

"Saturday night. Description of another dimension of aloneness 
physical isolation. After some time, George goes to the stove to make 
coffee. Bread knife brings up ideas of suicide, self -mutilation & murder, 

"George is able to get across to them the state he is in. They supply 
him with three things to help him hang on. (1) honesty, knowledge, 
love; they tell him frankly they don't know how hell get back, if he 
ever will but they know that the things he sees are real & they'll help 
in any way they can(2) they suggest he use the sharp weapon at his 
command his talent with words to tear down the fences in his 
path, and (3) they put Mozart on the box. 

"Blow: Concerto for orchestra and solo typewriter. How the music 
puts together all the levels of metaphor into the symbols of art how, 
by jesus, words can do the same: in the strange land of reality, the 
poem is the password. 



VENICE WEST: LIFE AND LOVE AMONG THE RUINS 89 

"Blow: one or two of the 'nerves upon a screen* pieces, tied in with 
ideas about relationship of art & schizophrenia." 

The precis goes on to other themes suggestive of the flipping expe 
rience and the "therapies" used to help one another during the expe 
rience. There is more about jazz, psychology, anthropology, science, 
the personal unconscious, the collective unconscious, the nature of 
reality and God. 

The flip epidemic went on for months, but the only one who had to 
resort to formal psychiatric therapy was Margot. She had herself com 
mitted to the County Hospital and spent a few weeks afterward in 
Camarillo State Hospital. Released for a week end to her husband and 
home, she "went over the hill," as the Camarillo inmates call it, and 
never went back. When investigators came around she hid out with 
friends, like a criminal on the lam. After a not-too-energetic search the 
state gave up and, I suppose, "released" her formally, on the books, as 
cured. There has been no repetition of her symptoms. 

The last one to come out of it was Phil Trattman. Months later he 
was still "training a fly w he had befriended and was "communicating 
with." How he was able to distinguish this particular fly from the 
swarms that buzzed around his pad all the time (the single window had 
no screen), I was never able to make out. Finally one day he came 
bearing sad news. The fly had died. 

After a decent interval of mourning Phil "came back/' He returned 
to his bass fiddle and started making night club gigs again. 



4 



The Loveways of the Beat Generation 



TO THE TOUBIST TRADE THAT PATRONIZES THE ESPRESSO COFFEEHOUSES 

of Hollywood or San Francisco's North Beach, or similar areas in New 
York, Chicago and other cities, the beat generation seems to consist 
chiefly of teen-agers in search of thrills. In actual fact, the typical beat 
generation young person is more apt to be well past his or her teens. 
Teen-agers loom large to the outsider's view because they are still in 
school, most of them, and have the leisure to frequent the coffeehouses. 
When they get a little older and begin to shack up in places like Venice 
West, they are more likely to remain within the closed circle of their 
own group and are seen infrequently in public places. 

In the loveways of the beat, age is not as important in the twenty-to- 
thirty bracket as it is in the middle-class marrying circles. If you have 
learned what it means to act cool and share the attitudes of the group, 
particularly the negative attitudes, that is, toward squares and the 
values of squaredom, you are in, you are with it. If you are a girl and 
your shack-up mate is five or ten years older or younger than you are, 
the chances are that no one will know or care. Most of the time no one 
is even likely to ask. This is especially true of the girls, who seem to 
hover in a kind of indeterminate twilight age between eighteen and 
twenty-eight, I know veterans of thirty and over who could pass for 
eighteen or twenty in square circles. This is partly due to dress and a 

90 



THE LOVEWAYS OF THE BEAT GENERATION 91 

prescribed youthfulness in behavior, which is de rigueur in all "new" 
generations. 

What are they like, these women of the beat generation pads? Where 
do they come from, how do they get here? And why? 

Gilda Lewis: The Gypsy Syndrome 

A common feature of many early nineteenth-century English ro 
mances was the heroine who at an early age ran away from home and 
joined a gypsy band, or was snatched by gypsies, or lured away from 
family or husband by a gypsy lover. In French romances it was the 
traveling carnival that provided the lure, or, in upper class romance, 
the theater. In the United States it was the gambling man, the river 
boat, or the circus. An essential part of the role was the willingness of 
the heroine to suffer for her man, to put up with violent fluctuations of 
fortune, to shield him from the Law, at the risk of her life, and, if need 
be, her honor. 

Gilda Lewis' story reads for all the world like one of these romances, 
except that in her case the gypsy band is the beat generation and the 
hero is gambling with fame more than with fortune. At twenty-seven, 
Gilda has run through three husbands and several lovers, all of them 
heroes in the tradition of the gypsy romance, but a kind of gypsy that 
the novelists of the nineteenth century never dreamed of. "When I met 
my first husband," Gilda says, "I was attracted to him because he car 
ried a book under his arm." The next thing about him that attracted 
Gilda was that he spoke to her before she spoke to him, without wait 
ing to be introduced, and that he swept her off her feet. In Gilda's 
life the gypsy lover has always come carrying a book or a musical 
instrument or paint and canvas but he was no timid intellectual, 
palely loitering at the door. He stormed in and took over. 

But Gilda is no early nineteenth-century heroine to be swept up and 
carried off in a swoon. The nuptial flight is always "a wild swinging 
scene." But then the suffering begins. This is part of the gypsy pattern, 
of course. She knows it and accepts it. Yet it always seems to take her 
by surprise. It is always somehow more sordid, more petty, than she 
had pictured it. When the affair breaks up, Gilda is devastated till 
the next one comes along. 

"I was eleven years old when I met this boy. My feelings were still 



92 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

immature, of course, and my sensations, my physical sensations were 
what do they call it? unlocalized. It was one of those young chase, 
push and poke things. Under the staircase in the dark and behind the 
house and in the garage, any place that was big enough to get under 
or crawl into. And breathless! I still remember some of those scenes 
better than things that happened a year ago or the day before yester 
day. Nothing happened, of course. We were both too young. And yet, 
looking back now, everything happened. Everything that was ever 
going to happen, only in pattern, like a mock-up, you might say, of 
the real thing. To this day I could swear that we had orgasms. I 
know I felt that way it was all over , though, and not, like later on, 
localized in the genitals. Even today, when I want to tell myself how it 
ought to feel like, I think back to those days and, do you know 
something? it sometimes helps to bring it on! 

"Anyway, we left New York when I was fifteen and came out to 
California. I went to high school in Los Angeles. When I was thirteen, 
Martha that's my mother, I never called her mother because she was 
my stepmother brought up the subject of my menstruation. She asked 
me if I was a lady. I said 'What?' and she said, 'You know, are you a 
lady yet?' That was her word for it, so you can imagine how much sex 
education I got at home. 

"Mine wasn't what you'd call a happy childhood. But what is a 
happy childhood? IVe never known anybody who had a happy child 
hood, have you? I wasn't really what you'd call happy till I was grown 
up, out of the house and on my own. Did I say happy? Well like the 
poet said, 'in my fashion.' " 

Gilda's mother died "before I could really get to know her well," and 
her stepmother was "what I would consider a very reactionary person." 
Why did her father, who was **a card-carrying Communist till 1935," 
marry a reactionary woman? "Well, he had two children who he felt 
needed a mother, and she had three thousand dollars which he needed." 
Martha was thirty-six when she married Gilda's father and, according 
to Gilda, a virgin. Gilda is sure of that, although it was never discussed. 
"I knew, that's all. I could tell by the way she acted,'* Gilda was eight 
years old at the time and her sister twelve. 

Her real mother "was completely surrounded by mystery, I was 
never allowed to see any of my mother's family after she died. My 
father had a falling out with her sister at that time. You know how 



THE LOVEWAYS OF THE BEAT GENERATION 93 

families are, like they blamed him for her dying ... it was his fault 
... it should have been him that died, not she/* 

Gilda was seventeen the first time she ran away from home. "I was 
going with a guy at the time and I thought I might marry him. I was 
fifteen and a half before I started menstruating and I thought maybe 
something was the matter with me, being so late. I was always very 
intense and maybe that well, anyway, he was the type a great 
reader, he wrote a little, too. You see, I was coeditor of the school 
magazine when I was twelve, and I remember writing stories way be 
fore that. Frank, that was his name, was the mental type. I used to 
think I couldn't even have an orgasm with any other type person 
which is silly, of course, as I later discovered but it's true in a way 
even now. I mean, if he doesn't reach me up here first, there's nothing 
happening down there. Like I'm on a mental kick. Artistic, too. Anyone 
having anything to do with the arts, you might say. But exciting. He 
has to be far out. Like he's going somewhere, far out and fast, and 
I can swing along with him. A lot of the young men I met were stu 
dents and also party men. It was a time when everybody was trying to 
find their way into something. So Frank and I ran away together. ..." 

Her father found her and pleaded with her to come back home. He 
said it was a disgrace to the family. "He was ashamed for his friends 
he said he didn't know how to explain a thing like this." She went home 
with him. Three months later she was in flight again. This time with a 
young painter who had a shack up in the desert somewhere. She 
doesn't remember where. She doesn't remember his name any more. 
"Ted, something. It didn't matter. It was wonderful while it lasted. 
I think he was part Indian, I mean American Indian. I'd met him only 
the night before and the next day just like that! I was ready to go 
anywhere, where they couldn't find me and drag me back home again. 
This time I left home for good and never went back/' 

The gypsy trail had begun for Gilda. Back to New York, now, and 
her first love. Robert was interested in creative writing but he had 
gotten a degree in advertising so he was working in an agency. He was 
writing on the side, and also painting. He interested her in music. And 
he was political, what the party people called "an intellectual." It was 
Frank who brought her into party activities. "He wanted to marry and 
settle down as a worker, have children and all that, but keep up with 
his writing and his painting, too. It didn't work. He wasn't skilled or 



94 THE HOLY BARBABIANS 

trained for anything else. I became pregnant right after we got married. 
We had to live off the charity of his folks for a while. I managed to get 
low-paying jobs to help support us and we kept borrowing from his 
people. Finally I decided if I'm going to have a baby and freeze I'm 
going to have it in California. So we came here. He got a job and I 
had the baby, but then he was out of work for long stretches. When 
the baby was five months old we took him to New York and left him 
with Robert's family. The day I left my baby I decided that if I 
couldn't have my child I certainly didn't want this man. We separated." 

Gilda consented to let his parents adopt the baby. On the way back 
from New York, hitchhiking, she met another man and lived with him 
for a while in Cleveland. They got married she isn't sure but she 
thinks Robert got a divorce before that; he did afterward, she's sure of 
that and she got pregnant again. This child, too, had to be given up 
for adoption by her in-laws. She doesn't know if she is still married to 
the Cleveland man or whether he got a divorce. By this time "I was 
making the party scene, marching in demonstrations, attending meet 
ings. Her sister had married and gone the whole route back to the 
Right ~ "tract house, PTA and all that sort of thing." 

"It was no longer possible for me to love any man with conventional 
ideas or live a conventional way of life," 

Marrying Dave Gelden in a ritual poetry wedding was now her idea 
of the swinging scene. Party activity is a thing of the past. "If I were to 
describe my political position I would say I was an anarchist. My con 
flicts come in when I try to put value judgments on things. IVe learned 
to live for the moment." 

Gilda doesn't follow the news very closely, never reads a newspaper 
and rarely reads a news magazine. She keeps the door of the pad 
unlocked, on principle. If anyone broke in and stole anything 'like, 
what is there to steal?" she would not report him to the police. She 
joined a church briefly when she was sixteen, the Methodist church, 
but has had no religious connections since then. The only thing she 
liked about it was the hymn singing. She thinks about going back to 
college and getting her degree, but it is hard to sit in a class and listen 
to lectures and to the silly questions students ask. *I guess I'm long 
past all that now. I just read. I read a lot," Looking back now she isn't 
sure that even the war against fascism in the forties made sense, "It 



THE LOVEWAYS OF THE BEAT GENERATION 95 

wasn't against anything, it didn't settle anything. The only ones I'm 
sorry for are the Jews Hitler killed." She isn't a pacifist, however. "I 
don't know what I'd do in case of war. People ask me, 'What would 
you do if a man broke in and tried to rape you?' He wouldn't have to 
break in. The door is open. And I'd rather be raped than put the heat 
on him. I wouldn't put the heat on anybody. Not from what I know 
about it now." 

How did she happen to come to Venice West? "I heard about it and 
right away I knew that's for me. Those LIGHT HOUSEKEEPING signs you 
see everywhere, that's for me. The lighter the better. And better than 
that, a good car well, one that doesn't break down too often out on 
the open road and going somewhere. Preferably with someone, away. 
It doesn't matter much where to as long as it's away. 9 ' 

Three months after the "marriage" to Itchy Dave Gelden, Gilda 
Lewis was on the road again. East bound on Route 66 with Chuck 
Bennison. Back on the gypsy trail again. 

Diana Wakefield: Handmaiden of the Muse 

There are those who play a sacrificial role in the service of the Muse, 
vestal, if not virgin, servants in the temple. Their labor is a labor of 
love. They hold a job and come home to shop and cook, to clean house, 
launder, knit, wash the dishes and carry out the garbage. All for the 
privilege of living in an atmosphere of art, any art, and feel themselves 
part of the creative act. Living in poverty and disorder, trouble and 
insecurity, they see themselves pictured in glowing biographies of the 
future, the artist's faithful model, the writer's devoted lover, loyal 
through the years of obscurity and want, the "women in the lives of 
men of genius. 

Diana Wakefield has had such a picture of herself from the time she 
was twelve, A painter of mature years she thinks he was forty or 
more but at the time everybody over twenty must have seemed middle 
aged to her found her peering in wide-eyed at the door of his studio 
one day and invited her in. She became his model, first in poses of 
childlike innocence and, by degrees, in progressive stages of undress 
till she was posing in the nude. By the time she was thirteen she was 
mistress as well as model. All this secretly, without arousing the 



96 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

slightest suspicion at home. Not even her closest friends in the neigh 
borhood or among her schoolmates knew. How this feat of secrecy was 
accomplished is something of a story in itself. 

"I would take my schoolbooks over to a girl friend's house, tell her 
mother I was going to another girl's house, stop there for a minute and 
light out for Melvin's studio. If my mother called up this one or that 
one Fd always been there and left. If she asked me any questions it was 
easy to pretend I'd run into some kids from school and we'd stopped 
somewhere for a soda. I used to go over to Melvin's two or three times 
a week. I was always careful to pick up my books and get home by 
five or so. Mother was very social. She was usually out playing bridge 
or shopping. She belonged to some organization, I forget what, and 
they had her licking stamps and addressing envelopes at least once a 
week. There never were any stories about me running around with 
boys, so she wasn't worried about anything. Dad? I don't think he 
even knew I was alive most of the time. I did my homework. I didn't 
get into any trouble. I was a model child." 

The artist model relationship came to an end when the family moved 
from Cleveland to San Francisco. Diana was fifteen when she met 
George, a high school senior with a precocious talent for art and no 
idea what to do about it. "He wanted to paint, he wanted to sculpt, he 
wrote beautiful poetry and played the guitar pretty well." Before he 
could make up his mind his family made it up for him. His father, a 
wealthy contractor, decided to make an architect out of George, and 
when the boy graduated from high school he told him it was all ar 
ranged for him to put in a few years at a school in France. George 
rebelled against the parental will and broke with his family. That gave 
Diana her first chance to play handmaiden to the Muse. George set 
himself up in a studio in North Beach and Diana started seeing him 
there after school hours, as she had done with Mclvin in Cleveland, 
posing and, for the first time, keeping house for an artist. Again it was 
a clandestine affair, but it was made easier now by the fact that her 
parents went back to Cleveland, leaving Diana with the landlady of 
the apartment house where they had been living, a .sweet, motherly 
lady they felt they could trust. It was going to be only for a few months 
but it became a permanent arrangement when her father and mother 
separated. Her mother subsequently married somebody else and she 
hasn't seen or heard from her since. Her father continues to send her 



THE LOVEWAYS OF THE BEAT GENERATION 97 

a monthly allowance. She sees him once a year when she goes back to 
Cleveland for a few days. "It isn't as if I missed either one of them very 
much," Diana says. "We were never very close, anyway." 

The sweet, motherly landlady turned out to be more of a madam 
than a mother. The cute young couples in the building that Diana's 
folks thought were honeymooners proved to be call girls and their 
boy friends. Pimps would probably be the professional name for them. 
Mrs. Trendel, the landlady had suggestions for Diana on how she 
could improve her financial position, but Diana had other plans. "I 
didn't want to antagonize her she really was a sweet soul in a way 
and I had to stay on in the place so my parents wouldn't get suspicious. 
I was in love with George and I wanted to help him. He wasn't taking 
a cent from his folks. He didn't even want them to know where he was. 
He kept moving around for a year till they got tired trying to keep 
track of him. Besides, it wouldn't be long before he'd have to go into 
the Army, anyway. We lived on what Dad was sending me and when 
we needed more I'd go out and find some part-time work after school 
hours. It got so I hardly ever got back to Mrs. Trendel's, except to 
pick up my mail, my monthly check from Dad." 

The Greetings from the President of the United States came to 
George when Diana was two months pregnant. Diana was left alone 
in the studio with a pile of unfinished canvases and a problem on her 
hands. She decided to have the baby, come what may. 

"I was afraid of an abortion, that's the truth. But it's also true that 
I wanted the baby. After all, it was his baby, too, and we had plans to 
get married when George came back." 

George did not come back. He died of an infection in Korea. The 
pregnancy had ended in a miscarriage in the fifth month. "I kept it 
from him, about the miscarriage, till the end. I couldn't tell him, 
I think they sent his body back from Korea in one of those mass re- 
burials. His people never told me. They didn't even know I existed till 
they learned from the War Department that he'd been sending me part 
of his pay every month. I was saving it for the baby. His people didn't 
offer me anything and I wouldn't have taken anything from them if 
they did." 

It was then that Diana hitched a ride with some friends and made 
her way down to Los Angeles and finally to Venice West. 

Here the same pattern repeated itself. First it was Don Berney, the 



98 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

poet-painter. Don's idea of a painter's mistress turned out to be some 
thing between a sainted Magdalen and a gun moll. Or rather, it was 
both by turns. One day it would be flowers and orisons at the shrine of 
the sainted Magdalen. The next day it would be blows and curses. The 
flowers were garden flowers filched from the neighbors, but no matter. 
They were presented with love and affection, and Diana accepted 
them in the spirit in which they were given. The blows and curses were 
harder to take, but they were just as sincere and just as well meant. At 
least that is what Don always succeeded in convincing Diana of after 
ward. Their reconciliations after such flare-ups were touching to behold. 

"He doesn't mean it, really," Diana would explain when she turned 
up with a blackened eye. "Don is high strung. When things aren't going 
so well with his painting, or he gets a poem back from a magazine, he 
broods about it for days. Then all of a sudden he blows up, about 
everything, against everybody. And I happen to be around." Diana 
happened to be around one night when a gallery man who was there 
looking over Don's paintings had gone away without making any 
commitment, without so much as a word of encouragement. At three 
o'clock in the morning she was at our door knocking wildly and crying 
hysterically, "Let me in! He's after me, he's trying to kill me!" We put 
her to bed in the spare room and gave her sedatives. The next day she 
vowed she would never go back to him, got a friend to sneak into the 
pad and bring her some clothes, and went off to hide out with friends 
in Santa Barbara. A week later she was back with Don. I learned later 
that the real cause of the beating was that she had hinted about giving 
up her job for a while because she was exhausted from working all day 
and partying and potting all night. 

When Don started gaining some success with his painting Diana left 
him, "He doesn't need me any more," she said, and moved in with Paul 
Mattmgly, a poet who lived in a pad on one of the Venice canals, a 
solitary soul who was seldom seen at parties. It was a rat's nest of a 
place but Diana quickly turned it into one of the most beautiful pads 
in town. She even succeeded in bringing Paul out of seclusion, and the 
feeling of community began to show in his work, deepening it and 
making it more communicative. "Paul Is going to be the greatest living 
poet in America," Diana boasted. That was like Diana, Whoever the 
god of her temple was at the moment was always the greatest, and she 
was proud to be in his service. But this god, like others in her life, 



THE LOVEWAYS OF THE BEAT GENEBATION 99 

turned out to be made of clay. And in the worst possible way. There 
were long stretches of time when he was completely impotent. Paul 
had no objections to her finding satisfaction with others during such 
times, and Diana had no scruples about it, but it led to complications. 
She fell madly in love with a budding young jazz musician and went 
on the road with him when he joined a traveling combo. 

Today she is back in Venice West shacking up with Tom Draegen, a 
talented writer who was one of the latter-day expatriates of Paris, 
Majorca and Rome. Tom has been trying for years to finish a novel on 
which he got a publisher's advance. He will do it, if he can kick the 
heroin habit. Diana is helping him do so. 

"A man can do anything if he's got the right woman to help him," 
Diana says. "Tom is going to be the greatest novelist in America 
maybe in the world. The Bible says love is stronger than death. I 
think it's even greater than heroin, and we're going to prove it." 

Rhonda Tower: Daughter of the Regiment 

That isn't her real name. A theatrical agent bestowed it on her and 
it stuck. From the apple orchards of Washington State to a private 
school for girls to Pasadena Playhouse to Broadway to the Champs 
filys^es to Rome, Vienna, Berlin and Venice, Italy, is a long, round 
about way to Venice West, but that is the way Rhonda Tower made 
it. First as a dramatic student with money from home, then as a 
dancer with a theatrical troupe touring Europe, then as a student at 
UCLA working for a library degree and finally as a young divorcee 
with a monthly alimony check making it cool and groovy in the Venice 
scene. 

You would never pick out Rhonda Tower as the finishing school 
product, which she is, or the typical beat chick, which she isn't. There 
is nothing typical at all about Rhonda. In her high heels and black 
formal she is the lady who is a tramp. In her toreador pants, bare legs 
and sandals she is any prowling newspaper photographer's idea of a 
movie starlet on a beach-front beatnik kick. Too beautiful to be 
casually approached by any Venice Sunday beach visitor, Rhonda is 
easily recognized by the secret stigmata known only to the beat 
generation initiate. Once she feels she can "relate' 7 to you she will 
speak freely and frankly. 



100 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

"I screw every chance I get. That doesn't mean I'm promiscuous. 
Like I don't get many chances." 

Those who know Rhonda Tower have no trouble understanding such 
apparent contradictions. 

Early memories include a doting father, a jealous mother, an Indian 
boy. "It's a real vivid scene. Like my mother put it up to my father to 
pick between us. You're going to live with her or you're going to live 
with me. You better make a choice. Just like that. Like there was a 
pairing off." Rhonda is sure she did nothing to provoke such an out 
burst on her mother's part. "It was intuitive on her part. You might say 
she had an intuition something like this might happen." Anyway, it was 
her first experience as the hypotenuse of a triangle, a role she was to 
play on one or two occasions in the future, more realistically. Of the 
Indian boy incident: "I was about twelve and the boy was the same 
age. It was exploratory, like I wanted to show myself to him. It was 
a sexual act, you might say, but it was never completed. I kept dream 
ing about him for years. After my divorce I went back home and I 
looked him up. We saw each other but nothing happened. We didn't 
swing out. Like he was scared. By that time I was making the movie 
scene. I was under contract to one of the movie companies and I was 
running around with a movie crowd, I was making money and like he 
didn't have any money. He had become conscious of the difference in 
our social status not only money, I mean the racial thing. It made me 
want him all the more bxit it bugged him. He was so hassled about it 
that, well, he couldn't make it, I was real drugged about it. I wasn't 
making any love scene at the time. I would have made it with him wild 
like if we could have gotten started/' 

It was a dream that brought her back to her Indian boy, and she 
remembered it in detail. "It was after I was divorced and I remem 
bered how he always came to my bedroom window that was when 
I was in high school and he*d call to me, and Yd get up and sneak 
out of the house. In the dream we'd be making a swinging scene out 
in the back yard and my parents didn't know anything about it. That's 
how the dream would go. Well, when I went back home I slept in the 
same bedroom and that night I could hear his voice sounding me, just 
as clear! 'Madelaine, Madelaine/ He was calling me, just like that. I 
got up in my sleep and I sleepwalked outside and I woke up there, 



THE LOVEWAYS OF THE BEAT GENERATION 101 

That was why I had to find him again. But after I saw him and nothing 
happened, I never have had the dream again." 

Her marriage had been a good marriage. "He was kind and con 
siderate. He made a good living. I was with him in the act. It went 
over big here and in Europe. His whole life was the stage and he's 
really one of the best. We got along fine only there was one thing. I 
wasn't having an orgasm." 

Her mother had had the same problem. "My mother never had an 
orgasm till she was about thirty-five years old. She didn't even know a 
woman had an orgasm. Like she had something wrong with her foot 
once and she went to a doctor and she was talking to him and he said 
like, you know, 'How's your sex life?' and so they got to talking and 
she realized like that she wasn't making the scene. She went home and 
started working on it and she had an orgasm. What a lousy lover my 
dad was!" 

Her father, Rhonda explained, had a very strict religious upbringing. 
He was an only child. Sex had always been a problem with him. "He 
had so much guilt feeling about it that sex was always a hassle with 
him. Like my mother sounded that he had never come to her bed. She 
always had to go to my father's bed. She said, 'How would you like to 
live with a man and always have to go to him?' " 

Her father is a doctor, and when she found she wasn't having an 
orgasm with her husband Rhonda went to him and told him about it, 
and said that it was ruining her marriage, "He said, 'Don't worry about 
it, It's better that way. You don't need to have it and you're better off 
not to have it, so forget it.' That's what he told me. Like that's how 
hassled he was about sex." 

Psychoanalysis was no help. "Like it cleared up a lot of things for 
me, about my past, my childhood, mother and father feelings, things 
like that. But I still wasn't having an orgasm. And believe me I tried." 

It was an affair with a beat generation poet that finally filled Rhonda's 
sail with a fair wind out of the Dry Tortugas. 

"Maybe it was the poetry. Like it makes me feel warm, like I'm relat 
ing. I'm with something, you know, and it makes me feel warm and 
swinging. Arid music, jazz music. Like it loosens me up and makes me 
less inhibited. And with pot man, crazy!" 

After a year of psychoanalysis Rhonda says she is still quite inhibited 



102 THE HOLY BARBABIANS 

at first "Like it's hard for me to take the first step. I stay more or less 
outside of it. Poetry helps me to get into it more, and music and pot 
That way it's a wailing scene." 

In the Venice West scene, Rhonda Tower is the Colonel's daughter, 
the pride of the post, the daughter of the regiment. She is no hand 
maiden of the Muse, yearning to wive, mother and nursemaid a genius 
to fame. Nor is she panting for a gypsy lover with whom she can hit 
the open road in a broken-down jalopy and suffer hunger or abuse. 
Rhonda is no pushover for a hard luck story or any emotional cripple 
looking for a crutch. "To make it with me a cat has to bring something 
to the scene, something that promises, at least, to lead to love." Like a 
keenly perceptive jazz musician listening for a sound, the sound, that 
he can improvise with uninhibitedly, freely, swingingly, at last Rhonda 
is developing the faculty of listening for the sound of love, the respon 
sive chord. Some women possess it from the start, as a gift. Rhonda 
had to learn it the hard way. 

Will she ever return to the stage? '1 put that scene down when I got 
divorced, I realized that this was only fulfilling my mother's dream for 
me for her not for me. I swung over to my father's scene then. My 
father was always sort of the intellectual of the family. So I decided to 
go to college and get educated. I tried to make that scene and it was a 
shuck, too. Now I'm trying to find myself and make my own scene." 

Barbara Lane: Refugee from Squareville 

Barbara Lane's story is brief and single-pointed. 

"It isn't art or intellectualism, it isn't genius that's got me hooked. 
It's the life. Do you have any idea what it's like out there? Sure, it 
isn't Main Street any more. Sinclair Lewis* Gopher Prairie is a thing 
of the past. So is Zenith City, for that matter. Squareville is modern 
now. It's got network television and Life magazine culture. You can 
tune in the Metropolitan opera on the radio. You can stay out late and 
come home drunk once in a while witiiout being hounded out of town. 
You can play around a little, if you're discreet about it, without too 
much talk. The drugstores carry paperback editions of Plato and 
Lin Yutang. 

"But the tension! Wages go up three cents and coffee goes up ten. So 
they pipe sweet Muzak into the supermarkets and you go around in a 



THE LOVEWAYS OF THE BEAT GENERATION 103 

daze loading up that cute little chromium-plated cart without looking 
at the price tags. And let most of it rot in the refrigerator before you 
get to it. Last year's car is out of style before you finish paying for the 
tail fins. It's a rat race. Who's got time to laze around in the sand for 
an hour, or take a quiet walk by the ocean in the evening, or watch a 
sunset? 

"Here I can get away from it for a while, at least evenings and week 
ends. I can do without things. God! do you know what a relief that 
is? Not to have to keep up with anybody. Nobody to show off for. The 
people at the office, they don't even know where I live. I tell them I 
live in Santa Monica. That's close enough, and it sounds respectable. 
It's got the same telephone exchange as Venice, so nobody suspects 
anything. 

"This is the one place I've ever lived where you can take your skin 
off and sit around in your bare bones, if you want to. Only the rich, 
surrounded by acres of land and iron fences, can enjoy anything like 
that kind of privacy. That's what I mean by being hip. And staying cool." 

Barbara Lane is part time square and part time hipster, but her heart 
is in Venice West, "In town, at the office, I work. Here I live," she will 
tell you. "It's like having one foot on each side of the tracks. But that's 
the only way I can make it." 

Barbara had everything, as they say. Family background, money, 
education, travel. When her family thought it was time for her to 
settle down with a good husband and raise a family, she went along 
with the idea. The man was her own choice; he was good to her, he 
provided well. They had all the right things, went to all the right 
places, knew all the right people. When she got pregnant she knew it 
was now or never. *1 just picked up one morning and ran. I didn't 
know where I was going. All I knew was I wanted out. I didn't take a 
thing with me. The only place I could think to fly to was Mexico. There 
I got a divorce. And an abortion. I learned a lot in Mexico. I didn't 
have much money so I lived in a small town on the west coast. It was 
like dying and being born again. The only things I've found to like 
about America I found first in Mexico, strangely enough. I mean jazz 
music, good books, uninhibited sex, relaxed living. Like Jack Kerouac 
says in On the Road, Mexico is a whole nation of hipsters!" 

Barbara returned to the States when her money ran out. She found 
Venice when the gas ran out, "I drove up with friends I'd made in Mex- 



104 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

ico. Visitors from San Francisco. On Windward and Main, in Venice, we 
ran out of gas. It was a question of buying gas or staying where we 
were. I'd never seen Venice before, although I'd been living in Los 
Angeles for years. I liked what I saw. So did my friends. We found a 
couple of cheap rooms and moved in together. Slept three in a bed 
for weeks till we had enough money to get separate apartments. My 
friend, her boy friend and me. No complications. I got a job in a 
Beverly Hills lawyer's office and my friends went on to San Francisco. 
I stayed on in Venice. 

"The only time I saw my ex-husband again he spotted me in 
Beverly Hills one day when I was coming home in this beat-up old car 
I drive back and forth, and followed me all the way to Venice. I didn't 
know till he knocked on the door, Said he was still in love with me and 
would I consider coming back to him. When he saw the way I was 
living something clicked in him, like he was remembering something 
he'd always wanted and missed out on somehow, and do you know 
what? He wanted to move in with me! I said Okay, Bill I was just 
testing him Okay. But you'll have to leave all that other stuff behind, 
the way I did. The fishtail fins and the made-to-order shoes and Coun 
tess Mara ties. Those precious gold clubs of yours. Dinner at Mike 
Romanoff's. Those slick magazines we never read and used to leave 
lying around to be seen by our friends. All those nice opera records. 
The hunting prints in your den. And the goddamn phony spinning 
wheel lamp 

"He said 'Yes/ and I thought he meant it, That was a year ago and I 
haven't heard from him since,'' 

Sherry McCall: Link Between Two Worlds 

For the Venice West beatster, Sherry McCall is the missing link with 
the World War II forties* The twenties and thirties he can read about 
in books. But the home-front scene of the forties is still, for the most 
part, undocumented in print except in a few novels. 1 

Sherry McCall is beat from in front, as the bop jive boys of the for 
ties would have put it. Sherry has had it. Everything. She was there 
when the passbook to a wartime shack-up was a book of ration stamps. 
At Sherry's place you can still hear the old 78 Alco record of Earl 
Robinson singing the song he wrote to Alfred Hays's Porterhouse Lucy> 
the black market steak. 2 



THE LOVEWAYS OF THE BEAT GENERATION 105 

Temptation Smith is steak mad, and he says: 

Steak! Steak! I got to have me red corpuscles. 

I dreams of it. I wakes up in the middle of the night 

and I talks to myself. And I say to myself, 

It's a conspiracy. There must be a cow left over 

from the last war. Look at me fingers, no calcium. 

That's what I need, calcium. With fried onions! 

Now this is my story and the meaning is plain 

You can't ride to victory on the gravy train. . . . 

Porterhouse Lucy, the black market steak, 

Porterhouse Lucy, Lord the trouble she make. 

Her kind ought to be feedin' Hitler's army. 

You got a date with Mary Four Freedoms this very evening. 

Besides, you ain't that hungry. . . . 

Sherry kept away from Temptation Smith and Porterhouse Lucy. 
She skimped on sugar, collected junk iron in the scrap drives, bought 
Victory Bonds and Freedom Bonds, rounded up Bundles for Britain, 
and dreamed about the world of the Four Freedoms that was to 
follow the war to end war, the world that Comrade Stalin and Comrade 
Churchill and Comrade Roosevelt had agreed upon at Teheran and 
Casablanca. She still had the pamphlets and the clippings to show for 
it, and framed copies of Rockwell Kent's "Four Freedoms" drawings 
stuck away somewhere in one of the half-dozen trunks that cluttered 
up her Venice West bedroom. 

In a North American Aviation plant Sherry met Johnny McCall. 
Johnny wanted to get a crack at the Nazis and Fascists, and when he 
was drafted he went, even though he might have gotten deferment 
because he was a defense worker. He was older than Sherry by a dec 
ade and had gotten in a few good licks against them in Spain as a 
member of one of the international brigades, but this time it was 
different Uncle Sam and Uncle Joe Stalin were on the same side and 
the combination was invincible. Sherry and Johnny had been living 
together and a week before he left for basic training she married him. 
She had never married anybody before but at the time, she explains, 
everybody was doing it. It was the patriotic thing to do, the Progres 
sive thing to do, and both meant the same thing in those days. 

Johnny never got to fire a shot at either Hitler's or Mussolini's 
legions, The War Department somehow found out about his Loyalist 



106 THE HOLY BABBARIANS 

war record and sent him to the Pacific theater instead. There is a little 
packet of letters somewhere in that mess of stuff piled up in the bed 
room and the last-dated one of them is from a war buddy of Johnny's. 
She doesn't remember now what became of the War Department 
telegram. 

Anyway, all his books are still around, piled up on the floor and in 
the closets. An almost complete set of the red-covered books of V. I. 
Lenin. An old copy of The Communist Manifesto, heavily underscored 
and full of penciled notes in the margins. Volumes of letters and papers 
of the Presidents of the United States, which Sherry had given Johnny 
during the honeymoon of the United Front when Abraham Lincoln 
and Thomas Jefferson were saints in the calendar of the Communist 
Political Association and even George Washington squeaked into it on 
his Revolutionary War record. Everything Howard Fast had ever writ 
ten, and Albert Maltz and Grace Lumpkin and Meridel Le Sueur and 
Sean O'Casey. And the Russian novelists and an anthology of prole 
tarian poets and old copies of New Masses, The Anvil and Partisan 
Review. All mixed in with or buried under piles of old clothes, torn silk 
lamp shades, broken umbrellas, half-spilled-out boxes of Christmas tree 
ornaments, hatboxes crammed with old shoes, phonograph records, 
finger paints and medicine bottles. Children's toys in every state of dis 
repair were always scattered over the floors and a hazard underfoot. 

Sherry had never married again but she had four kids, none of them 
her own. Two had been left with her and never called for, and two 
she had borrowed and never returned, as near as I could make out 
from her stories. Sherry loved children. Besides, they were the most 
effective insurance she had ever discovered against starvation. No 
county welfare department would ever let a mother and four children 
go hungry or homeless. 

When Johnny McCalTs buddy, the one who sent her the letter, came 
back crippled from the war, Sherry lived with him for a time on his 
GI bill in one of the UCLA housing units for veterans, hLs wife in name 
to make it cool with the VA's office. Since then site had lived with other 
veterans in similar arrangements. They were all Johnny to her and she 
was still Sherry McCall 

From veterans' housing shack-ups to Venice West was only a short 
step for Sherry. It puzzled her why she wasn't being received hos 
pitably in the pads. They weren't so different, as far as she could see, 



THE LOVEWAYS OF THE BEAT GENERATION 107 

from the Bohemians of the matchstick and tar paper apartments of 
veterans* housing and their informal, freewheeling domestic relations. 
Besides they needed her, she figured, to give direction and a social 
goal to their youthful revolt. 

"A Stalinist. An unreconstructed Stalinist," was Angel Dan Davies' 
verdict. 

Sherry never lost an opportunity to declare her adherence to the new 
Khrushchev party line, but to Angel, Stalinism was an incurable 
disease. "I went all through that with my mother and father," Angel 
said. "They brought me up to believe that the working class was the 
hope of the world and all the time they were falling for the Stalinist 
dictatorship. Like IVe worked with the working class," he told Sherry, 
"right next to them, at the workbench and in the shipping room, and 
IVe walked with them on the picket line and I wouldn't trust the future 
of the smog problem to them let alone the hydrogen bomb. Let some 
slob of a newspaper publisher start a crusade against beards and 
sandals and I wouldn't put it past the people, these world savers of 
yours and my parents', to come and bomb us out of here, the way 
they're doing to the Negroes in the South right now. No, man, I'm not 
the people worshiper I used to be." 

"But what are your values, your positive values?" Sherry kept asking 
all of them. 

"Like I want to love everybody," Itchy Gelden told her quietly. 
"Even the haters and the war-makers on both sides of the iron cur 
tain. And maybe if I can love enough, and put it into my poems and 
into my paintings, maybe it'll spread out like. And if enough of us 
make it that way and it helps to transform a few people here and a 
few people there, then somebody on this side is going to refuse to 
make their fuckin* bombs for them, and somebody on the other side is 
going to refuse to fire their missiles for them " 

"And if they don't?-" 

"Then we'll be the last ones who ever did anything positive about it 
and it'll be easier to die when the bomb drops. Like me, I'd rather die 
loving than hating, that's all, and I'm not any happier hating one side 
than the other side. Like let 'em put everybody in the Army, and let 
'em occupy each other's countries, like they did after the last war in 
Germany and Japan, and in a few years they won't be able to aim a 
gun in any direction without hitting their own little bastards on the 



108 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

street. Let 'em fight their fuckin' wars backward, starting with the 
occupations, man, and they'll never get to the shooting. ..." 

Sherry would throw her hands up in confusion and dismay and go 
back to her knitting. She was always knitting something for somebody. 
It was something she started during the war, for Johnny and his bud 
dies at the front, and she has never been able to stop. That, and the 
fact that you could always be sure of a meal at her house "It's on the 
county," she would say endeared her to some of the beat, especially 
the youngsters who kept dribbling in from here and there, always 
broke and in need of a warm sweater in the cold, foggy winters by the 
sea or a hot meal now and then. There was always something they 
could find to wear or help outfit a pad among the household junk and 
wearing apparel Sherry had piled up all over the house the accumu 
lation of years of housekeeping with one Johnny or another. 



5 



The Electronic Ear: 
Some Oral Documents 



You make it any way you can 

(The Scene: Angel Dan Dames" pad. Angel has just been served 
with an eviction notice, after six months nonpayment of rent. He 
is discussing the situation with Itchy Dave Gelden, Chris Nelson, 
Chuck Bennison and Dean Murchison, a visitor from San Fran 
cisco who was formerly a Greenwich Villager.) 

DAVE: Man, what a drag. I thought the cat was satisfied with you paint 
ing the outside of the house for him. 

ANGEL: Sure, man, but it's six months now. And I haven't even finished 
painting the place. Guess I got kind of hung up. Fact is I had to use 
up most of the paint painting my pictures. 
DAVE: That comes first. 

ANGEL: Naturally. But what I mean is, what do I do now? What do I 
tell the cat? 

CHUCK: Tell him any tiling. Tell him youVe sold a picture and you ex 
pect to collect for it next month, or something. Tell him your publisher 
is in Europe and owes you six months* royalties. He's a businessman, 
hell understand a thing like that. You know, accounts receivable. 
DAVE: You could take a thing like that to the bank, man, and get a 
loan on it I understand* 

109 



110 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

ANGEL: Yeh, if youVe got something to show for it. No kidding, what 
do I do? 

DEAN: I wouldn't do anything. Sit tight. Take it cool. 
ANGEL: But suppose I don't want the heat coming around they 
might not like some of the books IVe got here, or smell pot or some 
thing. 

DAVE: That's right. (He broods silently for a minute.) Did you say you 
had a roach stashed away somewhere? 

(Angel -fishes around back of some books on the shelf and comes up 
with the charred half end of a marijuana cigarette. He lights up, 
takes a drag on it and passes it around. Date has been going over a 
pile of jazz records. He -finds what he's looking for and puts it on the 
box. Thelonious Monk's Brilliant Corners.) 

DEAN (Stretched out full length on the floor, relaxed and reminiscent): 
I lived in Manhattan once on nothing a week. 
DAVE: What did you do, man, beg? 
DEAN: No. 

DAVE: You're an animal, man, you have to eat 

DEAN: Well, I scrounged a place to live. I lived in a different place every 
week. I would go to the landlord and say I want this place and I can't 
pay you any money till next week, I might have to hit ten or twelve 
places before I found a landlord who woxild let me live in the place 
and I would live in it for a week or so and when he came around for 
the rent I would be gone. I didn't have anything to move in and noth 
ing to move out. I had two pairs of dungarees, two nylon shirts and a 
pair of sandals. (Long pause) But I wasn't happy. Didn't get a damn 
thing done. No painting, no writing, nothing. 

CHRIS: I saw a cat once carrying a big cardboard box, and I said, 
"What you got there, man?" And he said, Tm carrying my bed around 
on my back." He used to make it up to Hoffman's at the Red Bam, and 
sleep on the stairs. He said you shouldn't think ahead more than a half 
hour, you know, live in the present. 

CHUCK: Like I say, now is the time. This is the only moment we have, 
now. Right at this split second. Past, present and future all in one. 
ANGEL: You can talk man, like you Ve got it made. Your old lady's pad, 
you can always go back there. But I've got all this stuff hero, and Mar- 
got laid up with the flu, and the kids. What'll I tell the landlord? - 



THE ELECTRONIC EAR: SOME ORAL DOCUMENTS 111 

DAVE: He's a Christian, let him share with his fellow man. Like they 
say it's good for the soul 

DEAN: I wouldn't tell him nothin*. I'd move out and to hell with the 
joint. YouVe had six months of it. It's time to give some other landlord 
a chance. There's plenty of pads with FOR RENT signs hanging out. 
ANGEL: Yeh, but you've got to be able to pay at least one month's rent 
in advance. 

DAVE: I've got some loot. It's my next month's rent but I'll lay it on 
you, if you think that'll do it for you. 

ANGEL: I already sounded him on that, but he wants all the back rent, 
six months. And besides, he's already served this eviction notice. 
DAVE: Hey, I got an idea. I'll move into your pad and you can move 
into mine. And when the agent comes around my pad looking for the 
rent, tell him I'm working in Detroit, in one of the auto factories ex 
pert consulting job, or something fancy like that and I'll be back 
with the loot in a couple months, and you're taking care of the place 
for me so no one will bust in and damage his fuckin* property. If he 
raises a stink you can lay a month's rent on him 
ANGEL: But if I do that, what'll you do for rent to pay my landlord. 
He'll want at least a month's rent in advance. 

DAVE: 111 tell him I'll finish painting the outside of the joint for him. 
It looks like hell now, half fresh paint and the other half peeling off 
like old wallpaper. He'll be able to rent it this way. 

(General approval of the idea all around) 
ANGEL: Hey, you know something? It might work! 

(NOTE: It did.) 

War for Survival 

(The Scene; Chuck Bennisons pad. It was once a small liquor 
store, later converted into a studio by a maverick architect who 
used it as a hideaway workshop for some wild ideas that more 
practical builders have since taken over and made fortunes on. He 
put a lot of work and materials into making the place livable, left 
it all behind him when he moved. Others left kitchen equipment, 
furniture and wall decorations, passing the pad on from friend to 
friend, but it still lacks bath or shower. It is late Sunday afternoon 
and Chuck has just gotten up after an all-night pot party. The 



1 12 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

place is very untidy. From a shelflike mezzanine under the high 
ceiling, which the architect used as a storage place and which has 
since been made into sleeping quarters, reached by a ladder, came 
soprano snores some chick left over from the party, still asleep 
there. Clem Peters, a young man recently out of college and now 
making the Venice West scene, has dropped in to discuss a prob 
lem. He has just been called up for military service.) 

CHUCK: (from behind the kitchen screen, puttering around with the 
business of preparing breakfast): So what's the problem, Clem, don't 
you want to do your duty to your country? See the world? Prepare for 
a future in a trade of your own choosing? What's the matter, don't you 
read the army posters? 

CLEM (in no mood for banter): I didn't sleep all night. I called up Dad 
in St. Paul. I talked with Mom, too. They both think it's all right, since 
there isn't any war on. It would kill them if I tried to make CO, you 
know, conscientious objector, or anything like that. You were in it, 
weren't you, during the war? I know it's something I have to make up 
my own mind about but I thought if I could talk to someone. . . . 
CHUCK: Just tell me what you've decided to do and I'll tell you all the 
good reasons why you should do it. That's what you want, isn't it? 

(I can see Clem's haggard face working with exasperation. He 
gives me a wry smile.) 

CLEM: I've decided to go to Washington and bash in Parson Dulles' 
head with a Gideon Bible. 
CHUCK: You can't. You're a pacifist. 
CLEM: I've got a rich uncle who can get me out of it. 
CHUCK: You can't accept it. Remember what you said about means 
and ends, 

CLEM: I'll take it on the lam. Hide oitt in Mexico. 
CHUCK: Escape from reality? What'll your analyst think? 
CLEM: All right. I've decided to kill myself. Know any good ways? 

(There is a knock on the door. I go to the door and let in Angel 
Dan Davies* He throws himself on the floor mattress in a spread- 
eagle posture of complete relaxation. I tell him about Clem*$ prob 
lem.) 

ANGEL (to Clem): Don't look at me. I can't give you any advice. Be 
sides, I'm a convicted felon. 
CLEM (startled); Yeh, what did you do? 



THE ELECTRONIC EAR: SOME ORAL DOCUMENTS 113 

ANGEL: I refused to register. That was in '48. Then everybody said to 
me, "Why make a case out of it? The war's over. You might as well 
register." But I said no, so they threw me in jail. I was in six weeks. 
CLEM: What reason did you give them? 

ANGEL: I said it was against my principles. To register was to give 
assent to war. I said the more you give in to them, the more corrupt 
you become. You've got to draw the line somewhere, wherever you 
can. I still bought cigarettes and paid sales tax. I still rode the munic 
ipal subways and some people I knew in New York at that time 
didn't even do that. I know a man in New York who lives on twenty- 
five dollars a month he earns as a janitor. Fifteen of it he sends home 
to his mother. The other ten he keeps only because he has like dentist 
expenses. He lives on garbage. On fruits and vegetables the markets 
throw out in the alley. He won't eat in anyone's house because he 
knows he can't offer food to them, they won't eat it. So he'll never take 
anything from you. Unless he is totally exhausted, then he'll accept a 
glass of milk. 

(Chuck emerges from behind the screen with coffee and toast and 

a large platter of scrambled eggs.) 

CHUCK (with a malicious grin): Milk, anyone? Garbage? 
CLEM: Well, what happened. Six weeks, is that all? 
ANGEL: I decided to register and they let me out. They stopped bother 
ing me, that's all. They didn't want me. They just wanted me to regis 
ter. I was the first case under the second draft law in New York. They 
didn't know what to do with me; they hadn't received any instructions 
from Washington. CO's were supposed to be handled differently than 
under the jald wartime law. All they wanted me to do was quietly 
register aau get out of their hair. 

CLEM (eagerly): Do you think I could do you think it might work 
that way in my case if I? 

ANGEL: Who knows? Like, who can ever tell what the bastards will 
do? You've got to take your chances, man. First you got to ask yourself 
why. 

CHUCK (with a mouthful of eggs): I got a suspicion the sonofabitch is 
one of those twenty-years-of-treason Democrats, like Harry Truman. 
He doesn't like Ike. 

(Bob Rickles drops in, a quiet, soft-spoken young man who had 

heard about Venice West from Henry Miller and others up in Big 



114 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

Sur and is making, the rounds of the pads with an eye to settling 
down for a while. He gets the drift of the conversation and joins in.) 
BOB: This friend of mine who's building a home in Big Sur told them that 
he would only go into the Army under two conditions. Either he would 
live by himself in a tent and only show up for exercises, when he had 
to, or that he must be sent into battle immediately, because he wanted 
to fight. He got out of it right away as a psychotic schizophrenic 
with delusions of persecution. 
CLEM: How did they figure that? 
BOB: He had the hunter instinct in him. 

ANGEL: Crazy, man! They wouldn't let him into the Army because he 
had the killing instinct! Too much! 
BOB: They don't want to deal with people like that. 
CHUCK: They try to conceal the killing part of it with all kinds of 
euphemisms. You don't shoot people,, you accomplish a mission or take 
an objective. Even the gun they give you isn't a gun, it's a weapon. 
Gun sounds too much like gangsters. 

BOB: Yeh, they try to pretty up the picture, This guy was too bald for 
them. Too frank. Anyway, it worked. 

ANGEL: I understand the bed-wetting bit still works. And the homo 
sexual bit still works. 

BOB: I know another fellow he had a much more difficult time, be 
cause he had to go through four hours of examinations, everything 
from Rorschachs to bending down and testing the tension in his rec 
tum. But he was a student of psychology. He'd been giving such tests 
himself, so he knew what to do, 
CLEM: Well, what happened to him? 

BOB: He also got off. Schizophrenic with delusions of persecution, 
CHUCK: You know, I think abnormal psychology should be a required 
course in all universities from now on. Because that enables you to 
know how to simulate these symptoms. Ifs just like the Stamslavski 
school of acting you make it real to yourself so you can get it over 
to an audience* 

BOB: Well, all these things exist within everyone ~ schizophrenia, 
delusions of persecution it's only a question of degree and balance. 
It's like my friend said,, he wasn't lying, he was just exaggerating, 
CLEM: I don't think I could get away with it. Or any of these things. 
I'm just not a good liar, I guess or exaggerates I'd give myself away. 



THE ELECTRONIC EAR: SOME ORAL DOCUMENTS 115 

(Angel gets up, with a wave of the hand says, "Later" and leaves. 
Bob follows him.) 

CLEM: I know it's really up to me, myself. What I mean, it hit me so 
suddenly I haven't had time to think, to ask myself 

(The chick has gotten up and is looking down from aloft. What she 
has pulled on over herself does not and is probably not calculated 
to _ conceal the fact that she has a very beautiful young body and 
isn't the least bit ashamed of it.) 

CHUCK: Like it's a war for survival, like they say. You got to make up 
your mind which part of yourself you want to survive. 

(The chick descends the ladder and nods to us. Chuck makes no 
move to introduce her. I get up to go and move toward the door.) 
CHUCK: Wait a minute, I'm going with you, (to the chick) Marian, this 
is Clem Peters. Clem's got a problem. See what you can do for him. 

(Chuck and I exit together, leaving Clem and chick alone in the 
pad.) 

Would you rather be buried, cremated or eaten by cannibals? 

(The Scene: Itchy Dave Gelden's pad. One of those slow-motion, 
cool parties is in progress, with low-decible y cool West Coast jazz 
on the phonograph, everybody relaxed, saying little and seldom 
and low keyed. You can sit for two hours on the floor, back propped 
against the wall, and as long as you keep your eyes closed most of 
the time nobody will violate your privacy. I couldn't guess how 
many are in the place. It is very dimly lighted by a few forty-watt 
bulbs subdued by almost opaque drawing-paper shades painted 
with oils in a somber key. It is one of the larger store-front pads, 
high ceiling and a closed-in mezzanine that serves as private sleep 
ing quarters. Every foot of floor space is sleeping quarters, for that 
matter, for anyone who cant or won't go home or comes properly 
recommended from the pads of San Francisco or anywhere else in 
the country. Certain key pieces of knowledge or information will 
serve as credentials. The password is an easy familiarity with jazz 
and jive talk. 

Richard, Tanya's husband, had a death in the family and the 
funeral was this afternoon. Most of the Venice West people knew 
the deceased quite well and some of them have received favors 
from him, but no one except Itchy Dave Gelden showed up at the 
funeral. Tanya is present. Richard is spending the evening with 



116 THE HOLY BARBABIANS 

members of his family, and she is frankly puzzled. Why didn't 
they come to the funeral? She turns to Angel Dan Davies.) 
TANYA: Like you're always saying ritual, how important it is for a cul 
ture that it should have its rituals. Isn't a funeral a ritual, too? 
ANGEL: Now don't go getting hung up behind the scene, Tanya. It isn't 
as if there was anything personal about it. We all loved Uncle Amos. 
But like it wasn't our scene. Dave went (He turns to Itchy who is 
lying face down on one of the mattresses., his arms over his head) 
what was it like, Dave? 

(Dave turns over slowly.) 

DAVE: It was like hell, man, don't bug me you know what kind of 
a scene it is it was a fuckin' farce. It was a circus. 
TANYA: A Baptist funeral. It wasn't nearly as much of a production as 
a Jewish funeral I once went to. 

DAVE: Jewish funerals are a farce too, a carnival, if you ask me. 
TANYA (to Angel): If there had been time you might have written 
something for it, Dan, like you did for Dave and Gilda's wedding. 
(pause) No, I guess they wouldn't have wanted that. 
ANGEL: I couldn't have done it, anyway. You can't write rituals for 
other people, only for yourself and your own. Like every culture has its 
own rituals and I guess I guess we're a different culture. Maybe 
that's it. (slowly, half to himself, with the awe of a new discovery) Yeh, 
man, maybe that's it. We're a separate culture, 

(Bob Rickles gets the drift of it and moves over to join the con 
versation.) 

BOB: We were talking about that up in Big Sur just before I left. What 
we would do for a funeral service if someone died, arid nobody seemed 
to know. Everybody pretended not to care, yet everybody was con 
cerned about it, as if somebody ought to do something about it Like 
is it better to be buried, cremated or eaten by cannibals? 
DAVE: Buried wouldn't be bad if they just threw me in the ground and 
I could be fertilizer and being cremated like is just a waste of time 
because why should they go to the trouble of burning mo and if I'm 
eaten by cannibals at least I make food for somebody, Direct food, I 
mean, it doesn't have to go through the metabolism of the earth. 

(Gilda has been lying beside Dave, seeminghj uninterested in the 
conversation. Now she turns over on her back.) 



THE ELECTRONIC EAR: SOME ORAL, DOCUMENTS 117 

GILDA (to Dave): But suppose it was somebody you loved. 
DAVE: I would give it to a medical school probably. 
GILD A: Even if it was somebody you loved? 
TANYA: Don't you think you would feel any attachment? 
DAVE: I would feel revulsion if anything. 
TANYA: But you'd go to the funeral, wouldn't you? 
ANGEL (coming to the rescue): I would write a funeral ritual, and we'd 
all go to the funeral. 

BOB: But what to do with the body, that's the question. 
DAVE: What's the difference, man? It's a rock, a stone, or like I say, if 
it's if the cat is a cannibal let him eat it like that's his culture. 
ANGEL: If a culture has a ritual, a real living ritual, it doesn't matter 
what you do with the body. The only thing that matters is what the 
living make out of it out of the fact of death and that means the 
fact of life, the meaning of life. 

BOB: That's the question. That's what we were talking about up in Big 
Sur. We all agreed that what we needed was a funeral ritual, but what 
would it be like? 

ANGEL: I don't know. Marriage is one thing. Mating. Love. I can do 
something with that. I can understand it. But dying wow! death 
I don't know what I'd do with it. Like I don't even know what it is, 
what its function is supposed to be, for the individual, for society. Sure, 
I know all the answers, all the old answers, but I can't accept a single 
one of them, really, not mentally, not emotionally. And I don't know 
anyone anyone I've ever talked with or read in a book who knows 
any more. Unless he's so used to shucking himself that he'll accept any 
thing, as long as he doesn't have to raise any of the real questions. Like 
everything they ever told us about death and the afterlife, about heaven 
and hell and all the rest of it, is just one big shuck. And I don't know 
even how to start thinking about it so how am I going to make it 
new? How am I going to create a new ritual for it? 

(In a far corner of the room one of the guests has started a little 
light -finger tapping on a pair of bongo drums. Somebody else begins 
piping a tune on a recorder. The record on the box is allowed to run 
itself out and everybody is quiet, listening to the impromptu im 
provisations of the bongo and recorder. To me and those in our 
little circle it has the eerie haunting sound of a dirge. Only the words 
are missing.) 



118 THE HOLY BABBARIANS 

Anybody want to be God? 

(The Scene: Same as above, an hour later. A Let's Pretend con 
versation game has started. It is a hipster adaptation of the Socratic 
dialogue with Talmudic and Scholastic elements in it, and the 
inevitable touch of Zen Buddhism. Chuck Bennison has joined the 
circle. He seats himself on a hassock with a lamp behind his head, 
the lamp shade simulating a halo.) 
CHUCK: Dig me, man, Fm God! 
TANYA: What have you done with Uncle Amos? 

CHUCK: Ah, Amos, mah good and faithful servant. Walked upright be 
fore de Lawd. Loved mercy, walked humbly how the hell does it 
go? Any of you cats got a Bible? 

TANYA: Some God, he doesn't even know his own Holy Word. 
ANGEL: Make up your mind, man I mean God. Are you Jehovah, 
Adonai, Elohim are you Spinoza's God or Hillel's or Aquinas' or 
Billy Graham's or Uncle Tom's? - 
CHUCK: I resign. 

(He yanks the lamp shade off the stand and plops it down on 
Angers head.) 

ANGEL: I don't want to be God. 

CHUCK: You're elected. I make you Pope, Peter, Jesus, God, The works. 
ANGEL: Then what are you? 

CHUCK: I'm Satan, Mephistopheles, the Devil. I'm your alter ego. 
Everything is chaos, all the pieces are lying around in the big store 
house of Tohu and Bohu Incorporated and you're the Great Producer 
ANGEL (shouting): Liar, and Prince of Liars I You know it's all a big 
shuck. Like if I'm God now, I'm God of Now. Not yesterday or last 
year or the last millennium or fifty millenniums. 

(He stands up and spreads his arms in a godlike gesture of com 
mand.) 

ANGEL: I abolish Time, I abolish Death-- no, wait, I take that back. 
Abolish death? Make everything everybody ~~ immortal? No- Like 
the idea is horrifying to me. 

CHUCK: If you create death then you permit murder. Life feeds on life. 
You put the power of life and death in every man's hand, his own life 
and everybody else's. 

ANGEL: Then I create Justice. Checkmate, Satan! Mam is created with 
certain inalienable rights how does it go? life, liberty and the pursuit 
of happiness. 



THE ELECTRONIC EAB: SOME OEAL DOCUMENTS 119 

DAVE: That's a shuck too, man. He's got life only as long as you, God, 
want him to have it, and in the end he always loses it. He's got liberty 
if he fights for it, and sometimes he has to give his life for it. Hap 
piness? He doesn't even know what it is. Like the cat is drugged be 
hind the scene nine times out of ten every time he tries to decide what 
he wants, what he really wants, to make him happy. It's a drag, man, a 
sad drag. Why don't you put all the goodies in his hand and say: Here, 
man, help yourself. You want to live forever? Crazy! And you, you over 
there, you want to die? early, late fine! Make it your way. Like 
everybody makes it his own way, the best way he knows how. That 
would be freedom, man. 

(Tanya gets up and does a little marching dance, pretending to 
carry a placard like a striking picket and shouting "Freiheitl Frei- 
heit!" Others take up the cry.) 

ANGEL (trying to make himself heard above the din): All right! All 
right! You've made it. It's all yours. I abdicate. Anyone who wants the 
job can have it. 

BOB: Wait a minute. You can't do that. 
ANGEL: Why not? I'm God ? ain't I? 

BOB: All right. Then you've got to have a reason an infallible reason. 
ANGEL: I abdicate because I don't believe any more. I'm an atheist. I 
don't believe in the existence of man! 

CHUCK: Then the world is abolished and we're back again where we 
started. Man no longer exists God has become an atheist and no 
longer believes in the existence of man. God no longer exists there is 
no man to invent him. We're back with old Tohu and Bohu, Inc., again. 
Anybody else want to take a crack at the God business? 

(As if in miraculous answer to his summons., the door opens and 
Ron Daley walks in well, not just like that he opens the door a 
crack and peers in, opens it a little wider and looks around, then he 
tiptoes in and stands by the door waiting for an invitation. We all 
know his habits and beckon to him to come in and join us. It is Ron's 
little private ritual. He is the Zen philosopher of Venice West. I 
explain to him what the game is and tell him the job of God is open. 
He sits down, gracefully, in his fairy way not swishy, although he 
is homosexual just gracefully in the yogi posture.) 
ANGEL: Go on, create a world. 
RON: What for? What do you need it for, man? A Zen master once gave 



120 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

this sermon to his monks: "You are all like those who, while immersed 
in the ocean, extend their hands crying for water/' 

(He takes a book from his pocket and reads.) 

Zen recognizes nothing from which we are saved. We are from the 
first already "saved" in all reality, and it is due to our ignorance of the 
fact that we talk about being saved or delivered or freed. So with 
"escape," etc., Zen knows no traps or complexities from which we are 
to escape. The traps or complexities are our own creation. We find 
ourselves, and when we realize this, we are what we have been from 
the very beginning of things. 

(Other conversations in the room break off and everybody moves 
over to join our circle. Ron continues reading passages from his book.) 
We think Nature is brute fact, entirely governed by the laws of ab 
solute necessity; and there is no room for freedom to enter here. But 
Zen would say that Nature s necessity and Man's freedom are not such 
divergent ideas as we imagine, but that necessity is freedom and free 
dom is necessity 

Our inner life is complete when it merges into Nature and becomes 

one with it. ... 

The whole universe which means Nature ceases to be "hostile" to us as 
we had hitherto regarded it from otir selfish point of view. Nature, in 
deed, is no more something to be conquered and subdued. It is the 
bosom whence we come and whither we go, 8 

(He puts the book back in his pocket, Dave gets up and puts Art 
Peppers Modern Art record on the box. The circle breaks up into 
twosomes and threesomes in a low conversational buzz. The bongo 
drums pick up on Art Pepper's rhythm section with lightly tapped 
counterpoint. Everything is cool again.) 

The man with the gun 

(Scene: Ron Daley s pad. A made-over garage. Ronnij has fitted 
it out with redwood panel walk and laid straw mats over the 
cement floor wall to wall Two mattresses on the floor are covered 
with Japanese fabrics and strewn with cylindrical and three-cor 
nered cushions of pastel colors. The bookcases are boards and ji,lass 
bricks. Two lamps hang from the ceiling, parchment lantern shades 
of modern design derived from the Japanese. The components of 
the hi-fi are unenclosed. In one corner, a triangular private shrine 



THE ELECTRONIC EAR: SOME ORAL DOCUMENTS 

holding a single rosebud in an Oriental vase, over it a rice paper 
print of the Buddha in contemplation, a Buddha of Zen simplicity. 
Partitioned off with bamboo and rice paper screens is a tiny kitchen 
ette, all the utensils neatly hung on the wall, copperware, shiny 
bright, and the dishes set up on the shelves, a spartan kitchen, 
clean, monastically clean. 

Ronny is lying on the bed, swathed in bandages. He was bru 
tally beaten up by vice squad officers during questioning at the 
police station after a raid on the Casbah, a gathering place for 
homosexuals, and is out on bail. Gilda Lewis has moved in to do 
nursing duty. She is busy in the kitchen making some broth for 
Ronny. He is telling me about the incident. His voice, always low 
and modulated, is almost a whisper.) 

RON: It wasn't like anything I had ever experienced before, Larry. His 
eyes were hazel, with little golden flecks in them. I must have been 
pretty high at the time and I guess he was, too. But it wasn't the pot 
altogether, I'm sure of that. It wasn't physical so much as it was spir 
itual, something inside us or outside, out there, who knows what it 
is, really? drawing us together. And he was talking. Art. Music. 
Philosophy. Poetry. I can't recall what he said, exactly. It wasn't what 
he was saying. It was a kind of spiritual presence. I felt as if I had 
finally found someone who was like that other dark side of me, myself, 
and I was looking at myself as in a mirror. And discovering myself in 
ways I had never known before. I'm sure it isn't a unique experience. 
Others must have known it I remember vaguely having read about 
such a meeting once in was it Shelley? Or something in Gide? 

(Gilda comes in with a cup of broth. 1 help to prop him while she 
spoon-feeds him, slowly and very gently. His face is badly cut up 
under the bandages. The doctor told me as he was leaving that he 
might be badly disfigured for life. After the broth he continues with 
his story. So far he has said nothing about the police beating, only 
about the young man he met at the Casbah that night and what 
happened before the raid.) 

RON: There was something in his voice that I remember. It seemed to 
be coming from somewhere far out. And I was enveloped in it, like a 
palpable thing. Like he was an extension of myself . . . the mystical 
being. . . . the Other . . . Narcissus' reflection in the pool come to life 
and assuming an existence of its own. And yet separate and different 
in some wonderful, mystical way. . . . Something I had always dreamed 
might happen to me. . . . 



122 THE HOLY BARBABIANS 

(He goes on like this for some time, his voice trails off into silence. 
He may be asleep. About the police beating nothing now or at 
any time since then, to me or anyone that I know of. Angel Dan 
Davies is at the door with Dave Gelden and Rhonda Tower., the 
chick Angel has been making it with lately. They take off their san 
dals and leave them at the door before entering, as Ron always does. 
Rhonda has bad news. The prominent lawyer she knows has refused 
to take Rons case.) 

RHONDA: You could have knocked me over with a feather. Like I was 
sure he'd take the case. He's taken other cases where there wasn't any 
money. Liquor cases and labor cases, things like that. But when I told 
him how the vice squad goons beat up Ronny and the homosexual 
thing man, he just flipped. What kind of a friend was I, trying to 
drag him into a scene like this! 

DAVE: Like I told you, you were wasting your time going to a cat like 
that. He's a square, man, and you don't catch a square sticking his 
neck out. 

RHONDA (to me): Do you know any hip lawyers? (I shake my head and 
smile) See, you've got to go to a square in a case like this, whether you 
like or not. They've got you over a barrel. 

GILDA: Even the doctor was afraid to come when I told him what it 
was, and where it was. 

ANGEL: It's like money. Did you ever try sounding a square for money? 
He'll take you to a fancy restaurant and spend ten bucks but you can't 
sound him for money to buy food for your wife and kids. They'll buy 
you drinks in a bar but sound them for a buck to buy groceries and 
they'll act like they're embarrassed theyll hem and haw and 
Christ! you'd think you'd asked them to take their pants off in pub 
lic or something. 

DAVE: That's what it is, man. Like they can't admit it, even to them 
selves, that there's such a thing as real starvation in the world. Or like 
this lawyer the cat can't face it, that a couple of cops will beat up on 
a cat just because he's a homosexual- They've got to prove it to them 
selves and to each other that they're real he-men. 
RHONDA: Do you suppose the Civil Liberties Union lawyers might do 
something? 

ANGEL: The Liberals? The political cats? They're the biggest squares 
of all when it comes to sex. Homosexuals yet wowl We got to find 
a lawyer who isn't prominent, or political or social, Some shyster who's 



THE ELECTRONIC EAR: SOME ORAL DOCUMENTS 123 

mixed up in the rackets, maybe. He's the only kind that'll have the guts 
to mix it up with the cops in a police-beating case, He's beat, in a way, 
so he doesn't have to worry what the country club boys or the PTA is 
going to say about him. He doesn't have any illusions about justice or 
civil rights or the Constitution. 

RHONDA: I know a prostitute that works up on the Strip 
DAVE: Now you're talkin'. Get ahold of this chick and shell know what 
to do, who to go to. 

ANGEL: Like when I was on the road and I landed in a town broke, I 
learned one thing: never go to the local minister or the rabbi or the 
social agencies. All they'll want to know is who you've got back home 
that they can ship you back to if somebody back home is willing to 
wire them the money. Go to the first whorehouse you can find and talk 
to the madam, or to some saloonkeeper in the slum part of town. I 
remember a whore in Terre Haute once 

DAVE: They're the original hipsters the outlaws, the outcasts. The 
square, like he's got all these official lies he's got to believe, the school- 
book story and the church story and all that shit 

(Ronny stirs a little. Angel lights a stick of tea and holds it to 

Ronny's lips to take a drag on. Ronny smiles and tries to nod his 

thanks. It hurts.) 

DAVE (looks over at me and shakes his head): Like I told you, Larry. 
The squares talk about their religion, their laws, their justice, their 
charity, but sooner or later it always turns out to be the man with a 
gun on his hip. 



Venice West: 

And All Points North, South and East 



THINGS WEBE HAPPENING EVERYWHEBE NOW. IN SAN FBANCISCO, IN NEW 
York, Chicago, New Orleans, Seattle, And people were converging on 
Venice West from everywhere to tell about them. One day it would be 
somebody down from San Francisco for the week end with a story of 
weird and wonderful happenings in a cellar cafe or some hillside pad. 
The next day it would be a pair of young visitors from Chicago who 
had hitch-hiked across the country leaving an unfinished semester at 
the U, of C, to dig the Venice West scene. Or a teacher on a moral 
holiday from one of the denominational colleges intent on mastering 
the mystique of the metaphysical orgasm, Or a refugee from Harvard 
on a beatnik binge, lured by talk of the West Coast Renaissance. 

Tom Draegen, for instance, had made it all the way from Paris and 
Majorca by way of New York, Tom was a Dubliner who had knocked 
about in the London literary scene for a year or two, where with 
Dylan Thomas he made the rounds of the pubs and parties, and then 
joined the beatster fringe of the international set on the continent. 
In New York he had no trouble gaining entry into the circles of the 
Upper Bohemians. They were junior executives of the advertising 
agencies and other "power elite** professionals of the communications 
industries and the young women who held down research jobs and 

124 



VENICE WEST! AND AIX POINTS NORTH, SOUTH AND EAST 125 

fancy secretarial positions. Week-end beatsters "beatnik" didn't fit 
them, since there wasn't the slightest tinge of pink in them who had 
discovered the Hipster Jazz Apocalypse ten years late and were re 
viving the bop talk of the early forties, presumably with the help of 
glossaries clipped from old copies of Life and Esquire. Tom told of 
their hipster parties, affairs that made Paris look like a Sunday school 
picnic. Usually held in a posh apartment, that was some pansy dec 
orator's idea of a beat pad, they were more like the orgies in a Cecil B. 
DeMille movie, he says, than anything on the beat scene. 

Up in San Francisco the big news was poetry and jazz at The Cellar 
in North Beach. Kenneth Rexroth and Lawrence Ferlinghetti were 
reading their poetry there with a jazz band and packing them in. 

In Chicago a disk jockey named Ken Nordine was improvising 
or so it seemed to his listeners bits of poetic prose and clever nar 
rative pieces with jazz music, not in the hipster idiom but in some 
thing of the same spirit. He called it Word Jazz and there were rumors 
that he would soon be bringing out an LP recording of it. 

Down in New Orleans, R. Cass had been publishing Climax, a crea 
tive review in the jazz spirit since 1955. He was running a club which 
he called The Climax Jazz, Art & Pleasure Society of Lower Basin 
Street, a hangout for poets and musicians, with an art gallery attached 
to it, to raise the money to keep the magazine going. He wrote me 
once that the police had raided his club because Negroes had been 
seen mixing there with whites and he was having trouble making bail 
and lawyers* fees; but issues of Climax continued to appear. 

The grapevine brought stories of things happening everywhere: off- 
campus beer parlor sessions in Seattle with English profs from the 
University of Washington making the literary beat scene in the tradi 
tion of the Wandering Scholars of the University of Paris; campus 
cats and beat pads and shack-ups around the University of Chicago 
where the Chicago Review was publishing my essays, and Henry Mil 
ler's, and other off-beat work that was beginning to attract nation-wide 
notice;* a maverick crew of scholarly rebels at Harvard bringing out 
Le. The Cambridge Review and shaking the ivy walls. The first stories 
were beginning to appear in the newspapers. Nobody knew what to 
make oHt, whether to treat it like another goldfish-swallowing craze, 
juvenile delinquency or a Communist plot. 



126 THE HOLY BABBAKIANS 

Squares in Beatvflle 

The squares had discovered beatville and were beginning to sniff 
and nibble around the edges. 

In New York it was the Madison Avenue exurbanites and the news 
paper and magazine editorial and art staffs. Some of them were begin 
ning, trimly and discreetly, to sprout beards and go to work in elkskin 
shoes, the lap-over Indian moccasin kind that no beatnik could ever 
afford to buy. The girls had to save their new beat look for week ends 
when they could go the limit with a way-off-the-shoulder, studiedly 
careless but conspicuously expensive get-up. It was the old Gilded 
Bohemia of F. Scott Fitzgerald all over again on a tax-deductible 
expense account. But it was trying to talk beat and act cool. 

In Chicago it was, outside of the campus cats, a cafe society scene 
gone beat in Playboy fashion. It was hi-fi and high fashion, with a 
touch of Bug House Square and the old Dickie Pickle Club in it. But 
brought up to date, modernized, the Holiday magazine look. 

In San Francisco the squares had discovered North Beach and were 
learning how to look beat without going too far out. Here, too, it was 
a week-end kick. Students from Berkeley were driving in on Saturday 
nights to sit around in basement jazz spots, a girl here and there going 
so far out as to show up with her hair and eyebrows sprinkled with 
silver dust and a fairy smoking a long panatela cigar. The old zany 
touch in the new "crazy" version. They went for funky jazz Turk 
Murphy and Bob Scobey with its flavor of Old New Orleans, Story- 
ville as they imagined it, with all the horror and heartbreak left out 
of it 

In Hollywood it was beginning to be taken up, like everything else 
in film circles, as a fad. The press agents were getting into the act, 
dressing their starlets for the publicity pix in briefer-than-ever briefs 
and in poses copied from the "Playgirl of the Month," reading Sartre's 
Existentialism or Camus* The Rebel. Everybody was trying to look, 
off screen, like James Dean and Marlon Brando. The sale of bongo 
drums was booming on Hollywood Boulevard. Staying up all night 
with jazz on the hi-fi, pounding the bongo drums and running around 
with beat characters was beginning to show up in the courts as grounds 
for divorce in filmland, dictated to the lawyers by alert press agents, I 
suspect. The Man with the Golden Arm had been made into a movie 



VENICE WEST: AND ALL POINTS NORTH., SOUTH AND EAST 127 

and there was talk of a dozen beat generation movies being planned, if 
the writers could 'Tick the story/' that is, keep the narcotics angle 
within the Code and make Existentialism entertaining. 

In Venice West there was as yet no Hollywood invasion. There were 
no "spots" to go to; the pads were private and the smell of the Hy- 
perian sewer emptying into the Pacific was too much for the Holly 
wood crowd when the wind was from the south. But that didn't keep 
out the non-Hollywood squares, the Left squares, refugees from witch 
hunts and loyalty oaths, or the university squares, lured by reports of 
a Renaissance, hoping that some of the creative energy that was loose 
in Venice West might rub off on them. 

Bloomsbury Boy Among the Beat 

The English departments of small colleges and the off-the-main- 
campus branches of state universities seem to throw off a mutation that 
can be described as the Bloomsbury strain. Like all hothouse variations 
it is a product, not of natural selection, but selective breeding. 

Painfully thin of face and figure and brittle-looking but deceptively 
stout like bone china, Grant Flemming made his first appearance at a 
party in Don Berney's pad. In the subdued light only dim forms were 
visible, sprawled on the floor-low divans in a tangle of legs, arms and 
rumps. Everybody except Chris Nelson, who was sketching away 
furiously in his notebook, was digging the poetry that Don was put 
ting down, with Tony on pots and pans, Angel on bongos, Chuck on 
conga, Ron Daley on recorder and Itchy Dave Gelden at the grand 
piano that the former occupant had left in the pad with three overdue 
rental payments due on it. It was a free-blowing jam session with 
nobody paying any attention to what anybody else was doing, and 
Itchy, who had abandoned formal pianistic technique at the age of 
seven after three lessons, pounding out palm and fist dissonances and 
elbow glissandi while Phil Trattman took it all down on the tape 
recorder he had just gotten out of hock. 

Nobody paid any attention to the newcomer till Grant tried to start 
up a conversation with Chris Nelson. Above the din, Angel's keen ear 
detected the accents of the square, and he laid aside his bongos long 
enough to get an earful of what the stranger was putting down. He 
didn't like it. When Don finished blowing his poem, Angel had a word 



128 THE HOLY BARBABIANS 

with him in the kitchen and when they came back the whisper was 
passed around that if anybody was holding they had better not turn on 
till after the square could be gotten out o the pad. He might be a 
narcotics agent. Unaware of what was going on, Grant tried to engage 
others in conversation only to meet with stony silence. He had 
expected to find these cats cool, but not this way. After one last stam 
mering, stuttering attempt he got out of there and walked the ocean 
front aU the rest of the night talking to himself in a paroxysm of chok 
ing chagrin that more than once boiled over into tears. 

By morning he was down with a bad cold and running a tempera 
ture. A girl at the aircraft plant where Grant worked found him three 
days later, half out of his mind with fever and scribbling away on a 
pad of paper, the bed Uttered with tin cans and bread crusts. 

When I saw Grant Flemming again I had met him only fleetingly 
at Don's party he was standing at our door, shifting from one foot 
to the other, uncertain of his welcome, and clutching a manuscript in 
his hand. Nettie promptly administered her usual first-aid remedy, 
coffee and sandwiches. The manuscript he had to show me was plainly 
a product of emotional confusion and high fever, but that seems to 
have been just what Grant needed to break through the "good writing" 
of English Lit to something like the beginnings of immediacy of speech 
and the "open" free-swinging style that is prized in beat generation 
literature. 

"All the time I was writing it I thought I was dying," Grant told me. 
He had only the barest inkling of what was happening to him and he 
was afraid of it. He understood, vaguely, that what he wanted was a 
loosening up, but he was afraid of coming apart in the process. His 
fears were not unfounded. More than once in the weeks that followed 
he was on the point of cracking up. At such times he would put down 
the whole $cene as a dangerous madness that led only to disconnected 
impressions and unfinished fragments. And unsuccess. He wanted des 
perately to see something of his in print besides the one or two school 
boy exercises his campus quarterly had published. The academic hang 
over was still strong in Grant. He wanted, if possible, to be published 
in a university literary quarterly of solid reputation. That would be 
success, and where was he if at twenty-two he hadn't even had a short 
story in Hudson Review or the Virginia Quarterly? Early success is in 



VENICE WEST: AND ALL POINTS NORTH, SOUTH AND EAST 129 

the Bloomsbury tradition and Grant saw himself as a latter-day Yellow 
Book man. Post-Joycian, of course, and with a touch of nostalgia for 
Henry James. But somehow hung up on the notion that Jack Kerouac 
had something for him, too, if he could only find out what it was 
without flipping his wig. Christopher Isherwood had been his shining 
example of a free prose style under proper control while he was at 
college. Now he was uncertain and confused. "I feel British/' he would 
say in moments of confusion. "I feel there's solid ground there. I think 
I could pull myself together and get something done and -finished if I 
suddenly found myself by a miracle set down in the middle of literary 
London/' But he was bent on making the beat scene first After all, it 
was his generation. It puzzled him why he was still regarded as a 
square by most of Venice West, even though they were convinced by 
now that he wasn't the heat. Somehow he had to make it, to cross over 

In Sherry McCall, who stood with a foot in both worlds, Grant found 
the bridge. 

Nothing he ever learned in any history course at the university pre 
pared him for the shock of this redheaded delayed-action bomb out of 
the wartime forties. What she had for him to read and what she had to 
tell him came through to Grant like the discovery of Dead Sea Scrolls 
out of an underground past. His college years spanned the loyalty oath 
period. There had been hints dropped in class about the united front 
years preceding the Cold War, but guardedly. Now the missing pieces 
were fitting together in his mind. Fascism had become an all but un- 
mentioned word in college history courses in the state-supported 
universities; and Grant recognized in this fact the clue to much that 
had puzzled him in the anti- and apolitical attitudes of the beat genera* 
tion. It may have been a war against fascism to Sherry and her friends, 
to Johnny who died fighting it on some Godforsaken rock in the South 
Pacific, but that wasn't General Motors' war, nor the Pentagon's, nor 
was it the version that was being dished up in the loyalty-oath-bound 
history classes. 

The Bloomsbury boy who might have fitted into the Mauvre decade 
which somebody described as pink trying to be purple was turn 
ing a bright, shocking pink under the tutelage of Sherry McCall, and 
when he checked his discoveries against the attitudes and opinions of 
the beat, arguments ensued that sometimes lasted all night. It was all 



130 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

very upsetting and for a time Grant was ready to settle for "a plague on 
both their houses." But even this proved an unsatisfactory solution for 
him. 

Grant's conflict was still unresolved when Sherry suddenly an 
nounced one day that she was leaving Venice and going back east 
There were rumors that the mother of one of 'Tier" children had turned 
up and wanted the child back. Whatever the reason, it called for a 
quick departure. There was no room for all Sherry's household goods 
in the trunk and on the floor of the getaway car. Would Grant mind 
storing it for her in his apartment? It was only a one-room apartment 
and hardly big enough to hold a tenth of the stuff, but Grant coveted 
the upright piano that went with the deal. He had taken piano lessons 
years ago and thought that if he could brush up on his playing a little 
he might be able to make the jazz scene with Don, Angel and the other 
boys. He went out and found a tiny three-room apartment on one of 
the Venice canals. The stuff filled up the two front rooms completely 
and most of the kitchen and even spilled over into the back yard, but 
he had the piano. By stepping over a few hatboxes and sliding in be 
hind a stack of packing crates he could get to the piano and practice 
his scales again. The new apartment cost more that he could afford 
he had quit his aircraft plant job by this time in accordance with his 
new political attitude and there was hardly room in the place for his 
typewriter and bed. Weeks passed and there was no word from Sherry. 
He was stuck with the stuff. Karl Marx and V. I. Lenin now lay in one 
untidy pile with his own copies of James Joyce, Jack Kerouac, Henry 
Miller and William James. It was a mess. A perfect picture of his own 
dilemma. 

Before he could grapple further with the problem, the Army called 
him up for military service. He talked it over with everybody in Venice 
West and finally decided to accept the President's invitation. It was 
one way out. 

The Coming of the Hip Square 

At the opposite pole of the educational breeding grounds of the state 
universities is Black Mountain College. Founded in North Carolina in 
1933 as an experimental school combining academic work with student 



VENICE WEST: AND ALL POINTS NORTH, SOUTH AND EAST 131 

community life on what the encyclopedias describe, discreetly, as a co 
educational basis, its alumni have now gravitated mostly to the East 
and West coasts. When the college was disbanded in 1956, many of its 
current students made the westward trek to San Francisco and Los 
Angeles, and two of its teachers, Charles Olson and Robert Creeley, 
became controversial but influential figures in the literary circles of the 
beat generation. (Jonathan Williams' Jargon Press in Highlands, North 
Carolina, has published much of their work, as well as that of other 
writers related to them in style and spirit. ) 

Manual labor and handicrafts were stressed at Black Mountain Col 
lege and some of its alumni are now engaged in such occupations as 
landscape gardening, weaving, book designing, home building and 
similar pursuits. Others follow the beat pattern of working for a while, 
then living off unemployment insurance as long as they can and pur 
suing one or another of the arts. Politically they could be said to re 
semble the Owenites and other community-founding sects, but morally 
they would have been tossed out of such communities. It is in their 
way of life that they resemble the beat generation and merge with 
them, but not without friction. For some of the beat regard them as 
squares hip squares. Here is an account of how the Black Mountain 
boys came upon the beat scene, as recorded in an interview I had with 
Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso on their visit to Venice West in 1956. 

GINSBERG: Last year Robert Duncan went to Europe where he met 
Robert Creeley in Majorca. He had been in correspondence with Black 
Mountain, with Olson, who had been friends with and in correspond 
ence with Creeley on Black Mountain Review. Creeley picked up on 
Duncan and threw Duncan on Rexroth. Creeley is a hipster and very 
cool, like all hipsters, with an elliptical style and very great intel 
ligence. He dug Jack Kerouac, so he got some stuff from us for the 
next issue of the Black Mountain Review. From Kerouac and me, a 
chunk from Gary Snyder, prose from Duncan, a piece of Burroughs'. 
Now we're all friends, but not organized as a literary movement. Essen 
tially it's just friendships, connecting the West Coast with what has 
been happening on a lower type level at Black Mountain, through 
academic, disciplinary Olson and Creeley, so there was a connection 
between the sensibilities of the West and the East there, for a while. 



132 THE HOLY BABBABJANS 

Olson dug Kerouac immediately. Then Black Mountain College closed 
about three weeks ago and the last remaining students arrived in San 
Francisco with their beards 
CORSO: Mental gangsters. 

GINSBERG: Well, you know, it's a beautiful thing, basically, a great 
thing, but 

CORSO : It's a question of enthusiasm. They want to be cool, but intel 
lectually cool. 

GINSBERG: Diabolical, beautiful love. Actually I think they're hung up 
on authority, like Ezra Pound. 
CORSO: In other words, they're hip squares. 
GINSBERG: But they're very intense and beautiful. 
CORSO : Hip squares. Wherever there's awkwardness there is not 
coolness. 

LDPTON: Are they sexually uninhibited? 

GINSBERG: Pretty much so, I think. Like crazy. They're cocksmen. Their 
method of teaching is like an attack on the defenses but not like Dos 
toevski, not like Alyosha and Mishkin. It's more like Ezra Pound. It's 
also suicidal, they're all suicidal. Always getting hit by policemen, get 
ting their hands cut by barbed wire, getting lost in deserts in Arizona. 
CORSO: I've never liked the way they live. That's why I'm against them. 
They stand apart. 

GINSBERG: They're cool; having rejected everything they've become 
unable to utter anything except in the most roundabout way. Except 
Creeley. He doesn't say anything except what he absolutely knows 
simple like on a basic, simple level, very short, epigrammatic, ellip 
tical, like 



I went out. 
Got a beer. 
Ran into a milk truck, 

by God. 

You won't understand me till you 
run into a milk truck. 



CORSO: A great lack of enthusiasm. Deliberate lack of enthusiasm. 
GINSBERG: Yes, except that they're so open, like Creeley likes Jack be- 



VENICE WEST: AND ALL POINTS NORTH, SOUTH AND EAST 133 

cause he's so open. He's also invulnerable, because he's so open. That's 
why he likes Duncan. And in Jack Kerouac, like he's found a way out 
of the impasse. And it comes to a great extent from Olson's influence. 
Because Olson is like a great hip intelligence. 

CORSO: No. It's aggression. It's terrible. It's an aggression against them 
selves and nothing else. It's like the cool musicians, the cool blowing of 
bop several years ago. 

GINSBERG: Like the most elliptical, hard, personal and, in a sense, 
suicidal, but also beautiful. Because like there was no compromise. It 
was intensely idealistic. A natural outgrowth of bop. Bop killed itself. 
Bop committed suicide. Like Mallarme. And so did poetry. 

The Black Mountain hipster touches the beat generation scene only 
peripherally, the way the juvenile delinquent touches it, or the profes 
sional criminal. I am not speaking here of the literary influence of 
Black Mountain Review and the writers who cluster around it. Their 
influence on beat generation writers remains strong and, on the whole, 
beneficial. I am speaking of the students who have not yet succeeded 
in finding any place where they fit in outside of the abandoned Black 
Mountain community and are hovering around the fringes of beatland. 
They are not numerous enough to be conspicuous anywhere. And 
where they have found entry easiest to make is in San Francisco's 
North Beach and New York's Greenwich Village. In Venice West we 
have seen few of them and those few have soon gravitated to Holly 
wood, where the pickings are richer, or back to New York or San 
Francisco. As hip squares, their tastes and many of their lifeways are 
hipsterish, but their values are bourgeois, or perhaps I should say a 
caricature of bourgeois values and, like all caricatures, greatly exag 
gerated and distorted. 

Hoods, Junkies and the Illegal Sex 

Other squares who, for one reason or another, try to make the beat 
scene are small-time hoodlums, heroine addicts and homosexuals. None 
of these can be actually a square, of course, in the sense in which a 
normally adjusted person living a conventional life is a square. They 
are square only with relation to the lifeways and values of the beat 
generation. If beatville is heaven, it is easier for a hood, a junkie or a 



134 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

homosexual to get into it than a banker, a professor or a Cub Scout 
den mother. 

In Venice West the hoods hang out at the Wind Blue Inn. From the 
outside it looks like any other ocean-front saloon. There is nothing 
arty about it inside either, to justify the rather poetical name it goes 
by. The proprietor is a Lesbian, a strapping bull-dyke who can wield 
a barrel bung as lustily as any bartender. Big Fanny runs the joint with 
the help of a girl friend who looks like a depraved angel with a halo 
of honey-gold hair and eyes that might have been transplanted from 
Lucifer's eye bank. Big Fanny has a taste for the higher things of life 
and when she discovered the holy barbarians she encouraged them to 
drop in for a beer and sit around at the tables she put in for their 
benefit Fanny herself is sustained by Cosmic Vibrations and a daily 
quart of Three Star Hennessy. In the holy ones of Venice West, Big 
Fanny could feel the vibrations of the Infinite right away. "I knew you 
were tuned to the music of the spheres," she told Itchy Dave Gelden. 
"I can feel the vibrations." 

Itchy called it horseshit but he liked the atmosphere of the place and 
introduced his friends to it. Most of them soon dropped out when 
Fanny started proselytizing them, but among those who remained 
patrons of the place was Tom Draegen. He had no more use for Big 
Fanny's vibrating God than any of the others, but he found the hoods 
who frequented the joint an excellent source of wine and heroin. 

Tom was still working on The Book. It was Diana Wakefield who 
called it that, the capital letters were in her voice when she said it. 
Diana had been working to keep Tom going on The Book but late 
hours and absenteeism had gotten her fired from one job after another. 
Now she was pregnant and having a miserable time of it. The hoods 
were keeping them in wine and cigarettes, slipping Tom a few caps 
of heroin now and then, and once in a while a fin or a sawbuck when 
the pickings were good. 

Hot merchandise was also available at the Wind Blue Inn. For their 
writer and artist friends it came cheap and sometimes for free. Tom 
Draegen and a Black Mountain alumnus who did most of his goofing 
at Tom's pad were the only ones who availed themselves of such 
favors. An occasional hot typewriter offered the most tempting favor 
but the cool cats turned it down. Nothing with serial numbers on it. 
Besides, it might turn out to have been heisted from one of their fellow 
writers in the neighborhood and would have to be turned back anyway. 



VENICE WEST: AND ALL POINTS NORTH, SOUTH AND EAST 135 

The hoods loved to hang around the painters' pads, gape at pictures 
and watch the artist working for hours on end. It fascinated them. 
Poetry readings were more of a chore for them and usually they picked 
up a copy of Mad and leafed through the cartoons while the reading 
was in progress, waiting for the real part of the party to begin. They 
went for pot but left the stronger stuff untouched, although they were 
not above using their connections to get a little horse for Tom now and 
then. 

The Book grew by a page or two from month to month but Tom's 
monkey grew by leaps and bounds. Diana was hooked on the stuff, 
too, by this time. Office work or any other kind of regular work was 
out of the question now. A girl at the Wind Blue Inn told Diana about 
a strip job that was open at one of the Reno night clubs. This was how 
Tom and Diana finally made it back to New York. Tom and his Black 
Mountain alumnus friend, who had to get out of town anyway because 
the police were after him for a few dozen traffic tickets he had ignored, 
lived off Diana's strip act salary and, for a nest egg to get to New York 
on and to finance the habit after they got there, they peddled Diana's 
after-the-show hours to Reno tourists at from five to twenty-five dollars 
a throw. 

For the send-off before they left Venice nobody was around except 
Itchy Gelden, who loved everybody and denied no one. All the rest 
had put Tom and Diana out of the pale long ago. The hoods had given 
them up, too. They were too hot by this time to be seen around with. 
When Itchy left the pad Tom went down to the Wind Blue Inn to see 
if he could promote Big Fanny for a bottle of something to take along 
on the long trip to Reno. 

"I was figuring you might put it on the cuff for a few days," Tom 
lied, buttering it up with his most engaging smile. 

"Where the Inner Power is at work there is no need and no want," 
Big Fanny told him. "For God knoweth our need even before we ask. 
And supplies our every want, if we will only tune in with the vibrations 
of the Infinite." Fanny never was a soft touch when it came to business. 

"Cut out the crap," Tom said, "all I'm asking is a few cans of beer or 
something " Nothing but cash on the counter could break the spell 
of the Infinite. 

"Okay," Tom said, "you can take the whole damn joint and stick it 
up your ass. We're cutting out of this town." 

"Just you wait and see. When you get your ass in a sling you'll come 



136 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

running to God, and what do you think Hell say to you? Hell say go 
fuck yourself, that's what He'll say," Big Fanny called after him. And 
returned to her contemplation of the Infinite. 

The Illegal Sex 

After a narrow escape out of a rear window of the Z-9 Club in East 
Los Angeles when the joint was raided by the vice squad in a roundup 
of homosexuals, Chippy Rosland fled to a shack on the Venice West 
canals because it looked like a good hide-out where no squad car would 
ever think to come prowling. It was then that Chippy discovered the 
beat generation and took up painting. He wrote poetry occasionally, 
too, but he kept it to himself, feeling it wasn't good enough to show yet. 
Among the beat, Chippy found complete acceptance on a no-questions- 
asked basis for the first time in his life. Was he hip? Was he cool? Or 
was he just another square trying to make it in Beatville? Chris Nelson 
had an answer that echoed the feelings of everybody in Venice West. 

"Like nobody can belong to an illegal sex, man, and be a square. He's 
the beatest of the beat!" 

Even the fact that Chippy worked as a lathe and turret man in one 
of the defense plant machine shops was not held against him. As a 
member ex-officio of the beat generation he was not bound by all the 
rules of the tribe. 

Chippy didn't have to be turned on to pot. It was as widely used in 
homosexual circles everywhere as it was among the beat. And the jive 
wasn't exactly a secret language to Chippy. He was even able to intro 
duce a few good additions to die beat vocabulary. All that was neces 
sary to turn his place into a beat pad was to persuade him to throw his 
Maxfield Parish prints out in the trash and put some drip and smear 
abstracts that Angel and Itchy gave him on the walls. Chippy was al 
ready an intellectual, a homo intellectual. He kept the radio tuned to 
the FM classical music station, went to symphony concerts and owned 
an almost complete collection of old 78 Dwight Fisk records, including 
Minnie the Wayward Sturgeon and The ColoneTs Tropical Bird. Before 
long he was listening to Dizzie Gillespie, too. And Thelonious Monk. 
Prudently keeping a foot in both worlds. 

Today Chippy exhibits his water-color abstracts along with the paint- 



VENICE WEST: AND ALL POINTS NORTH, SOUTH AND EAST 137 

ings, junk sculpture and collages of the beat in the saloons, where it 
is too dark anyway to tell a daub from a masterpiece. 

LIKE, ART, MAN 

is the way the most recent saloon show was advertised, and Chippy had 
three water colors in it. In fact, Chippy was the only artist in the exhibit 
who got an offer of money for one of his paintings. He was offered a 
dollar for it by an art lover who happened to drop in and recognize its 
merits. Chippy turned down the money, preferring to give it instead as 
a love offering to a handsome young blond boy he met in the place and 
now has shacked up with him at his pad on the Venice West canals. 

The Juvenile Delinquents 

"Everyone has to go to jail some time in his life," remarked a fifteen 
year-old girl I met at Angel's pad one afternoon. She was playing hooky 
from high school for the day and had just come back from visiting her 
boy friend in the County Jail. He had been busted for pot and they 
were also trying to hang a car-stealing rap on him. "They" were the 
heat and this was the bond that this chick felt with beatiand. The 
beards puzzled her, and the poetry was so much baby talk to her. She 
had enough of that at school. One book was the same as any other to 
her. Pot was baby stuff, too. She had been on horse since she was 
thirteen. 

What drew her to the beatniks was the way they understood her 
attitude toward her family and elders in general and the fact that they 
didn't think she was a bad girl. The fuss that parents and older people 
made about sex seemed silly to her. Virginity? She and her girl friends 
at high school had a word for it. "Big issue about a little tissue." 

As a juvenile delinquent Myra Flores belonged to the cool cats who 
could be seen coming out of Venice High after school hours and piling 
into a car integration was no problem here white, Negro, Mexican. 
They didn't hang around street corners; they drove fast cars in car pools 
that were also clubs of a sort. The Mexican girls were popular with 
these boys. Sometimes the blond girls dyed their hair to look like 
Mexican chicks. Their cars were not souped-up hot rods, that was for 
squares. Their clothes were sharp. Every penny they could beg, borrow 



138 THE HOLY BAKBAJEUANS 

or steal went into clothes. They drank wine and smoked marijuana. 
They didn't talk much. They were physical in their relations, fondled 
each other a lot and watched television by the hour. Looking older than 
their years was very important to them. It meant that they could pass 
for twenty-one without an I.D. card in the taverns. 

Rarely can a girl like Myra Flores make the beat scene except as a 
place of refuge or a drop-in lay, but a J.D. like Willie Frank can make 
it for quite a while on nothing but an ability to say little, listen much 
and play it close to his vest, which passes for cool as long as he doesn't 
make any false moves. Willie fell into Venice West from a town in New 
Jersey where things had gotten too hot for him. He had smoked pot 
since he was fourteen, graduated to horse not long afterward, and 
served a term in jail back east. 

The beat and the juvenile delinquent are only kissin' cousins. They 
have the same enemies, which is the slender thread that sometimes 
unites them in temporary alliance. Both are outlaws, speak a private 
language and put down the squares, but in beat circles the J.D. is re 
garded as a square, a hip square in some things, but still a square. 

He is a square because his values are the conventional American 
values: success, the worship of things, the obsession with speed and 
devil-take-the-hindmost attitudes in everything. They are "sharpies" 
always looking for angles. They believe everything they read in the 
ads. The Tdck" they are looking for when they "borrow" a car for a 
night is the kick of making "a majestic entrance" in front of a chick's 
house. The juvenile delinquent wants a Ford in his future, but he wants 
his future right now. He can't buy it so he steals it. "My old man 
waited," one of them remarked to me, "and what did it get him? He's 
fifty and he's still driving a '49 Chevy." 

The names they give their gangs are indicative of their hunger for 
social status. In Venice West it's The Doges. Some of them pronounce 
it "dogs" but they know it means something like The Man of Distinc 
tion. (Wasn't "putting on the dog" once a slang synonym for distinc 
tive?) If one gang names itself The Counts, the gang in the next block 
goes it one better with The Dukes. Such pretensions are abhorrent to 
the beatnik. 

Their "social protest," which is a common theme in liberal magazines 
trying to "understand" the J.D., is so much double talk in the beatnik's 
opinion. They are not victims of the society, they are its fruit and 



VENICE WEST: AND ALL POINTS NORTH, SOUTH AND EAST 139 

flower. The J.D. in a stolen car, dressed up in his sharp clothes, seated 
beside his chick and smoking the cigarette that is the choice of men 
who demand the best, is the ironic triumph of the adman's dream. They 
are not likely to yield to the lures of communism. In fact, many of the 
J.D.'s of past generations are now among the society's most successful 
businessmen. Their only protest is that it takes too long. 

The vandalism of the juvenile delinquent is directed against symbols 
of authority, like the school. If he finds school too confining or oppres 
sive, or too boring, the beatnik finds ways of "beating the system." He 
cuts classes as often as he can but he keeps his scholastic average high 
enough to stay out of trouble. He doesn't go back after school hours and 
wreck the classroom or waylay a teacher and slug him for giving him 
low marks. Any show of violence among the beat generation, when it 
does occur, is rare enough and significant enough to become leg 
endary. Such a legend is the one you hear frequently about Carl Solo 
mon. "It was at Brooklyn College," says Allen Ginsberg. "Some square 
lecturer was giving a lecture on Dadaism, and Carl pelted him with 
potato salad." Which is exactly what any Dadaist would have done. 
That Carl was expelled for it is only further proof that the lecturer 
was a square. 

The violence of the delinquent is usually directed against older peo 
ple. The beatnik would not commit such acts of violence. He would 
write a poem about it. 

Only a newspaperman with his feet stuck in a slot at the rewrite 
desk could possibly mistake a J.D. for a beatnik. The newspaper stereo 
typed vandal is a composite of "teen-ager," "juvenile delinquent" and 
"beatnik," a convenient composite since it simplifies headline writing 
and makes every youth crime story a rewrite of the familiar dope fiend, 
sex fiend, youth-on-the-rampage yarn. All the reporter has to do is 
change a few names and places. The J.D. doesn't mind the publicity. 
It gives him status. The only thing Willie Frank objected to in the 
news stories about him and his gang when they were busted for drugs 
was that the papers misspelled his name and even mixed up names 
under the pictures. "DOPE RING SMASHED" was a little too grandi 
ose a headline, Willie thought, for a twenty-dollar haul of pot, but it 
gave him a glow just the same. 

Related to the J.D.'s, but two or three cuts above them in education 
and family background, are the young sons and daughters of the rich 



140 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

from the "right" side o the tracks. When they arrive in Venice West it 
is in their own Jaguars, with a few boxes of avant-garde books and jazz 
records, looking for the beatest pad they can find on the beatest street 
in town. 

The Beautiful and Beat 

Judy March was one of them who came to beatland by way of an 
Auntie Mame progressive school childhood, a dramatic and dancing 
school girlhood and a jazz and espresso coffee shop postgraduate 
course. At nineteen she was already two abortions ahead of all her 
schoolmates, had made the Lesbian scene for kicks, and was ready to 
* try pot, poverty and holiness. She had read about Venice West in the 
newspapers and heard about it in the coffee shops. At a poetry and 
jazz session in Cosmo Alley she met Sally Collins, another beat-struck 
chick, and the two of them decided to make a team of it in a Venice 
pad. The decor of the pad they set up was a cross between sorority 
house modem and New Orleans whorehouse. 

Both girls are beautiful, Judy in a delicate, cameo way and Sally in 
a dark, sinewy, athletic way. Together they present a toothsome double 
threat that would be cause for panic among the women of any other 
community, but not among the chicks of beatville. Where beauty has 
no scarcity value the competition is greatly diminished. As for sex, 
where availability is the rule, not the exception, other talents have a 
chance to figure in the courtship of the young. Judy paints and sings 
folk songs and is able to accompany herself on the guitar. Sally has a 
flair for dressmaking, makes her own clothes and likes to make clothes 
for her friends. 

Their original plan was to get jobs in or near Venice West, working 
part time and pooling their earnings. The rest of the time was to be 
spent in study, the arts and partying. Neither girl had any difficulty in 
getting jobs. Employers took one look at them and hired them on the 
spot, whether a position was open or would have to be created by firing 
somebody. But there always seemed to be a catch to it. The boss ex 
pected something more than gratitude. Judy promptly quit the first job 
she got, a good one, when the boss tried to press money on her she 
had left home with only a few dollars and was broke before payday 
and made life miserable for her when she refused his money and the 



VENICE WEST: AND AUL POINTS NOKTH, SOUTH AND EAST 141 

proposition that went with it. Judy wasn't angry about that; she was 
sorry for the man. "If only he hadn't been so vulgar about it, standing 
there with the money in his hand " Judy was used to seeing money 
conspicuously displayed. That was one of the things she was running 
away from. 

Between dates and parties they boned up on Zen and cool jazz and 
talked about Existentialism all night. They read Kenneth Patchen's 
poems aloud to each other and passages from Henry Miller's Tropic of 
Cancer. Day and night their pad resounded with rhythm and blues and 
smelled of Chanel No. 5. They were making the scene but the larder 
was chronically empty and there were no dining-out invitations to be 
had from the beatniks. The boys would bring a few groceries in a bag 
and a few marijuana cigarettes and they'd make an evening of it that 
way, but for a substantial meal Judy and Sally still had to accept dinner 
invitations from their square boy friends in Hollywood and Westwood. 

When Christmas came Judy went back home for the holidays and 
did not return to the pad. Sally stayed on in Venice West, shacking up 
with a square who had a steady job but wanted to make the scene in 
beatville. 

The Evidence: Heard and Seen 

There is more to the "case history" of a human life than any inter 
view can reveal, however skilled the interviewer may be and however 
frank and self-searching the interviewee. Without the evidence of 
things seen, the evidence of things shared and experienced, the oral 
evidence, even in the most confessional interview, is incomplete. 

Who would guess, for instance, that Tanya Bromberger, who says 
monogamy is a bourgeois shuck, is a perfect madonna of a mother? The 
love and care she lavishes on the child of her mixed marriage "What's 
mixed about two people getting married?" she would probably ask 
matches anything I have ever observed in "respectable" circles. Diana 
Wakefield is vocal in her praises of any man who is the genius of the 
moment in her life, but her critical judgments where art and literature 
are concerned are shrewd and unbiased. She loves her man, not for what 
he is, but for what she thinks he can become. To him she can be 
unmerciful in her criticism, but let anybody else utter the slightest 
criticism and she will take his head off. Angel Dan Davies will repeat 



142 THE HOLY BARBAEIANS 

"I don't know" with every show of humility when you ask him ques 
tions, but let anybody else pretend to know the answers and he must 
prove that person wrong if it's the last thing he does. Christlike in word 
and often in deed, Dan is capable of ruthless vilification when he thinks 
somebody has not given him his due or failed to live up to the expecta 
tions he has built up in his own imagination. And the next week or 
month, perhaps, he will swing around to the other extreme of un 
questioning faith and affection. 

Bhonda Tower, for instance, describes herself as too cool to be 
taken in by any would-be artist looking for a meal ticket, yet I have 
seen her playing dinner host for days on end to some broken-down 
beatnik who isn't capable of reciprocating with a lay, let alone love. 
Once it took all the self -discipline she could muster to keep herself 
from running off with a visiting poet who had nothing to offer but a 
great love, a broken heart and a shared Hf e, equal but separate, with his 
wayward common-law wife and the kids he loved and couldn't leave. 

Chris Nelson is often voluble in his criticism of beat amorality, espe 
cially in matters of personal responsibility, like repayment of loans. Yet 
one in need even a stranger whose only credentials are a sheaf of 
unpublished poems and an empty pocket can find food and lodging 
at his pad. 

And gentle Dave Gelden, who vows he loves everybody, even the 
squares, will fly into a tantrum when he is ever so mildly reproached 
for falling down on a promise or failing to show up on time. For Dave, 
the right to goof transcends all other rights. "Like, I goofed, man," is the 
unassailable defense in all matters of equity and etiquette. 

Yet in many things that most respectable people lie about, the beats 
are often pathologically truthful. Even when it means losing an advan 
tage or failing to gain a favor. I have known them to lie for each other 
in matters where they would never dream of lying for themselves. 

To anyone except an insider, the reasons which a beat generation 
person will give for anything are far from the real reasons. This has 
been true of all alienated generations, but it was never so true as it is 
today when the alienation is virtually all-inclusive. It is the code of the 
outlaw. Suspicion of the square is normal. He may be a narcotics in 
former. Even the most reasonable proposal from a square is likely to 
meet with "Okay, it sounds all right. What's the shuck?" 

A seasoned disaffiliate can pick a potential beat chick out of a bevy 



VENICE WEST: AND ALL POINTS NORTH, SOUTH AND EAST 143 

of squarejanes as expertly as a veteran trainer picks racers out of a 
stable of fillies. How he does it is a mystery winch it would be blasphe 
mous to divulge to the profane. Common lechers from squaredom are 
always trying to get the beatnicks to play bird dog for them, but pimp 
ing of this sort is discouraged in beat circles. To play talent scout for 
a squarejohn is the rankest kind of treason. "Where do you find them?" 
the squarejohn asks in amazement, looking over the strikingly good- 
looking chicks in espresso shops. "Could you fix me up?" 

He knows that to the square he is only a "character." He has been 
portrayed that way in the newspapers and magazines, by the same 
pen-prostitutes who make "characters" out of all intellectuals, and 
whores out of all women who are beautiful and speak with a foreign 
accent. The nearest the square ever comes to members of the beat 
generation is in the espresso coffeehouses, the cafe society of the beat. 
He sees them sitting quietly over a cup of Italian coffee, listening 
with rapt attention to a piece of cool jazz music on the hi-fi, and con 
cludes that being cool means a sophisticated pose of indifference and 
nothing more. He sees young couples in low-voiced conversation, not 
even holding hands, and decides that the younger generation is either 
frigid or prematurely satiated with sex. What he sees in these places 
doesn't fit in with what he has read in the press, so he is vaguely irri 
tated and, at the same time, eaten up with curiosity. Something is being 
kept from him, he feels. He would feel better if he were being verbally, 
even physically, challenged. What hurts is that he is being pointedly 
ignored. 

His impression of the situation is substantially correct. To the dis- 
affiliate of the beat generation who drops in for a cup of coffee, a game 
of chess, conversation or music at the espresso coffeehouse, the square 
is a sluinmer from squareville. He sees him as a dupe or a victim 
of the rat race. More likely a victim, or else why would he be hanging 
around a beat joint? He is probably someone who is driving a three- 
thousand-dollar car to a sixty-five-dollar-a-week job after withholding 
and deductions. He is fed up, perhaps, with the middle-class culture bit 
and is looking for something more satisfying than quiz programs, radio 
opera and South Pacific. Maybe he's a step farther out. He goes in for 
bucket chairs and shipping-crate modern architecture. He reads his 
Time from back to front, and "The Talk of the Town" in The New 
Yorker. He may even be having his first doubts about the neon chrome 



144 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

artyfake Disneyfication of America, but the chances are he still falls 
for the shell game swindle of "the highest standard of living in our 
history" while he tosses all night in debt-infested dreams. At best he 
might be squirming in that circle of hell which is reserved for those 
who do violence to their own nature in an effort to conform out of fear 
of being different. He is looking for something. He doesn't know what 
it is, but he wants it bad. Yet he isn't ready to pay the price for it. You 
can see that in the way he looks around him at the pictures on the wall, 
at the beards and sandals, at the chicks. He thinks all it takes is the 
price of a cup of capuccino and a fast lay in a beat pad. 



PART II 



Down With the Rat Race: 
The New Poverty 



THOSE WHO SEE THE AMEKICAN BUSINESSMAN AS THE FOUNT FROM 
whence all blessings flow, enterpriser par excellence, organizer of Prog 
ress, job-maker, charity-giver, endower of churches and universities 
and patron of the arts, who has given us the highest standard of living 
in the world, have never been able to understand why the figure of the 
businessman has fared so badly at the hands of the intellectuals. As 
for the businessmen themselves, the early industrialists were never wor 
ried about their reputation with the intellectuals. Many of them were 
only semiliterate, and while they were quick to retaliate against sticks 
and stones, whether thrown by labor or by their competitors, they were 
merely contemptuous of words. But the growth of advertising as a 
formidable weapon opened the businessman's eyes to the possibility 
that while he was watching out for sticks and stones, words might 
break his bones. 

It was not until after the Depression, the New Deal and World War 
II, though, that the public relations men and the advertising men were 
able to arouse the businessmen to active retaliation against the treat 
ment he was receiving in novels, plays, radio and films, and even in the 
churches and classrooms. During the Depression he had to lick his 
wounds in bitter silence while he heard himself called a "malefactor of 
great wealth" by that "traitor to his class" Franklin D. Roosevelt. He 
had to suffer in silence while detractors were being entertained in the 

147 



148 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

White House and providing verbal ammunition for a New Deal that 
looked to him like nothing more than a "hate business" conspiracy 
which his political spokesmen have since rephrased as "twenty years of 
treason." It is little wonder that his pent-up resentments should have 
taken the form of a vengeful "house cleaning" after the war, not only of 
political officeholders but of the New Deal's intellectual and literary 
friends as well. 

Hand in hand with the loyalty oaths and investigations has gone a 
widespread propaganda campaign on the platform and in the press 
against all intellectuals, a campaign in which friendly highbrows are 
regarded as only a little less dangerous than unfriendly ones and po 
tentially treasonous. The halfhearted and timorous "wooing back" of 
the egghead that began with the successful Soviet orbiting of Sputnik I 
is confined to scientists and technicians, and is concerned, character 
istically, with buying brains rather than encouraging the intellectual to 
think straight and speak out plainly. 

The word intellectual has never been altogether free from suspicion 
in the United States; calling a man a brain has been fightin' words for 
a hundred years. Intellectualism is, needless to say, equated with left 
ism, a proposition that has at least the merit of being half true, but not 
in the way they mean it. It is even equated with modernism in art 
unless it can be turned into window displays, high fashion fabrics, 
liquor ads and clever television commercials. 

But the businessman had a bad conscience long before he ever be 
came a target of the intellectual. Profit, which is the basis of business, 
has been under a cloud for centuries, certainly since the time of the 
prophet Hosea and probably long before him. Among the Church 
Fathers there were not a few who echoed the words of the Hebrew 
prophets against malefactors of great wealth, well before "That Man" 
in the White House blasted them on the radio. 

And when Dave Gelden speaks of writing poetry in the lavatory of 
the airplane plant on the boss' time and on the boss' toilet paper and 
says, "It wasn't stealing, I was just getting my own," he speaks out of 
an old and honored tradition. He speaks for the few who can reject the 
rewards that a business civilization offers those who are willing to help 
it sell its ideology. 

Moneytheism is everywhere, in everything we see and read and hear. 
The child is indoctrinated with it from birth, not in the schools, which 



DOWN WITH THE RAT RACE : THE NEW POVERTY 149 

try to counter it with the humanities as much as they dare but in 
the large school of experience where most of our education is received. 
It is only after a long process of diseducation and re-education that 
one sees it clearly and sees it whole the price-wage shell game, the 
speed-up treadmill, the Savel-Spend! contradictions dinned into our 
ears night and day, the heartbreaking brutalities of class-made law, 
lawyer-made law, judge-made law, money-made law, and the unspeakx 
able vulgarities of hypocritical religion, the nerve-shattering Stop! and 
Go! Hurry! and Go Slow! Step Lively! and Relax! warnings flashing 
before our eyes and bombarding our ears without letup, making the 
soul a squirrel cage whirligig from the first stimulant in the morning till 
the last sedative at night. The rat race. A rat race that offers only two 
alternatives: to run with the hare or hunt with the hounds. 

Disaffiliation: The Way of the Beat Generation 

Disaffiliation is a voluntary self-alienation from the family cult, from 
Moneytheism and all its works and ways. 

The disaffiliate has no blueprint for the future. He joins no political 
parties. He is free to make his own inner-directed decisions. If he fails 
to vote altogether, that, too, is a form of political action; half the eligi 
ble voters of the United States normally fail to do so. In his case it is 
a no-confidence vote. 

The disaffiliate doesn't like the smell of burning human flesh, whe 
ther it come from the lynching tree, the witness chair or the electric 
chair. 

Having read history from the bottom up as well as from the top 
down, he knows that culture moves both ways, interactively, and there 
are times the present is one of them when the cultural top is at the 
economic bottom. 

He is not against industrialization. He is not against "things," mate 
rial things as opposed to spiritual things. 

Why, then, disaffiliation in an era when Time-Life-Fortune pages are 
documenting an American Way of Life that is filled with color-matched 
stainless steel kitchens, bigger and faster cars, electronic wonders, and 
a future of unlimited luxuries like television-telephones and rocket trips 
to the moon? Because it is all being corrupted by the cult of Money- 
theism. In the eyes of a Nelson Algren it is all a "neon wilderness." In 



150 THE HOLY BAKBAJOANS 

the eyes o a Henry Miller it is all an "air-conditioned nightmare/' Be 
cause, as Kenneth Rexroth has put it, you can't fill the heads o young 
lovers with "buy me the new five-hundred-dollar deep-freeze and IT! 
love you" advertising propaganda without poisoning the very act of 
love itself; you can't hop up your young people with sadism in the 
movies and television and train them to commando tactics in the army 
camps, to say nothing of brutalizing them in wars, and then expect to 
"untense" them with Coca-Cola and Y.M.C.A. hymn sings. Because 
underneath. Henry Luce's "permanent revolution" the New Capital 
ism, the People's Capitalism and Prosperity Unlimited lies the ugly 
fact of an economy geared to war production, a design, not for living, 
but for death. 

If the disaffiliate is on the side of the accused instead of on the side 
of the accusers, it is because the accuser has his spokesmen, a host of 
them, well paid, with all the mass media at their command and all the 
laws and police on their side. 

Where the choice is between two rival tyrannies, however pious their 
pretentious, the disaffiliate says, not a plague but a pity on both 
your houses. 

The Art of Poverty 

The New Poverty is the disaffiliate's answer to the New Prosperity. 

It is important to make a living, but it is even more important to 
make a life. 

Poverty. The very word is taboo in a society where success is equated 
with virtue and poverty is a sin. Yet it has an honorable ancestry. St. 
Francis of Assisi revered Poverty as his bride, with holy fervor and 
pious rapture. 

The poverty of the disaffiliate is not to be confused with the poverty 
of indigence, intemperence, improvidence or failure. It is simply that 
the goods and services he has to offer are not valued at a high price 
in our society. As one beat generation writer said to the square who 
offered him an advertising job: Til scrub your floors and carry out your 
slops to make a living, but I will not lie for you, pimp for you, stool 
for you, or rat for you." 

It is not the poverty of the ill-tempered and embittered, those who 



DOWN WITH THE RAT RACE : THE NEW POVERTY 151 

wooed the bitch goddess Success with panting breath and came away 
rebuffed. 

It is an independent, voluntary poverty. 

It is an art, and like all arts it has to be learned. It has its techniques, 
its tricks and short cuts, its know-how. 

What is poverty for one may be extravagance for another. The writer 
must have his basic library, the composer his piano, the painter his 
canvases and tools, and everyone must have at least a few of the 
books he wants, if only in paperback editions, a few good recordings 
and some objects of art, if only in prints and cheap imitations. 

It all depends on what the disaffiliate values most. Kenneth Rexroth, 
for instance, has a scholar's library that may be worth ten thousand 
dollars all of it shelved in packing cases set up one above the other 
to serve as bookshelves in a fifty-five dollar slum apartment. A com 
poser I know has a microfilm library of the world's best music that is 
matched only by that of the Library of Congress and perhaps a few 
private collections, and stints on food and clothing almost to the point 
of beggary. Each must work out the logistics of the problem to fit his 
own case. 

The writer as disaffiliate has a special problem of his own. He may 
not have much control over the size of his income a book may flop or 
it may be a runaway best seller but he does have some measure of 
control over how much he spends. And how he spends it. And where 
he lives. For, as Nelson Algren has expressed it, "Scarcely any way now 
remains of reporting the American Century except from behind the 
tote-board. From behind the TV commercials and the Hearst headlines, 
the car ads and the subtitles, the editorials and the conventions. For it 
is only there that the people of Dickens and Dostoevski may be found 
any more." 

Behind the billboards lie the slums. Here one may hold his standard 
of living down to the level of a dedicated independent poverty with 
some measure of ease and self-respect. It is a way of life that is obliga 
tory only on the truth-telling artist but it is a good way of life for him; 
it helps him keep the long, lean view. He will go farther on less if he 
learns how to travel light. In the slum he will learn that the health of 
a civilization should be judged by the maxim laid down by one of hu 
manity's greatest physicians: "Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of 



152 THE HOLY BARBAKtANS 

these least, ye did it not unto me/' He will learn what Diane Lattimer 
(in George MandeFs novel, Flee the Angry Strangers) meant when, at 
the last, out of the depths of her agony and pain, she said: "Come, sit 
in the Cosmopole. You don't need anything in this world; only poverty 
is holy." 

The Logistics of Poverty 

The dedicated independent poverty is an art, but it is also a science 
of survival. It has its strategies and logistics. 

Those who choose manual labor soon find out that, so far as the 
trades are concerned, breaking into the ranks of labor is neither easy 
nor cheap. Joining the proletariat is Eke trying to join an exclusive club 
and often quite as expensive, what with trade union initiation fees and 
numerous qualifications and restrictions. For the most part the beat 
generation disaflSliate is confined to the fringe jobs in the labor market, 
like small house painting jobs if he is an artist trying to find part-time 
work to pay for his colors and canvases and keep some canned goods 
in the larder. Some painters in the Los Angeles area have occasionally 
found cartooning jobs and sculpting on a part-time basis in the studios, 
particularly at the Walt Disney Studio. Ceramics has provided some 
income for artists, as well as costume jewelry designing, free lance or 
in the employ of some small businessman. Frame making can be a 
source of income. And some artists do not mind teaching a few hours 
a week at some art school or as private tutors. 

In Venice West some have made it for a while as typewriter repair 
men, postal employees and arts and crafts teachers "occupational 
therapy" in mental hospitals, or attendants in the mental wards, or 
psychology assistants giving Rorschach tests. In San Francisco they 
sometimes ship out with a crew for a few months and come home with 
a bank roll, or join a road construction gang in Canada or Alaska. Allen 
Ginsberg financed a trip to North Africa and Europe that way. The 
lumber camps of the Northwest sometimes serve the same purpose for 
a while. Some part-time jobs are to be found as laboratory technicians, 
X-ray technicians and the like, if one is willing to spend a few months 
preparing himself for the job. 

In New York there are jobs that offer an opportunity to work in odd- 
hour shifts, much desired by the beat, as art gallery guards, deck hands 



DOWN WITH THE RAT RACE: THE NEW POVERTY 153 

on ferryboats, and for those who seek solitude and plenty of time to 
think, goof or write, the job of barge captain is the answer. Those who 
are polylingual or have traveled abroad can find part-of-the-year em 
ployment as travel guides, either self-employed if they have a little 
organizing ability or in the employ of travel agencies. 

In Greenwich Village there are some who make it by doing hauling 
in small trucks, and some by delivering packages and messages. New 
Yorkers also find good pickings at the many openings and premieres in 
art galleries and other places to say nothing of pickups, but for this 
racket you have to own at least one good party suit, unless you can 
pass for a painter or an interesting "character/' New York is also good 
for free-lance manuscript reading jobs for publishers and part-time jobs 
reading proof for publishers or printers. Musicians who are making the 
beat scene do copy work for composers and music publishers, or com 
pile "fake books" containing melodies and chord symbols, with or with 
out words, and peddle them to commercial musicians in a kind of un 
der-the-counter deal, sometimes on the union hall floor and other hang 
outs for musicians in New York and Hollywood. 

In Venice West and elsewhere there is always the possibility of an 
occasional hitch with the gas and electric company as a meter reader. 
There is clerking in bookstores and now there are a few jobs in es 
presso coffeehouses. For those who live near a university there is library 
work on an hourly basis. Landscape gardening is a year-round possibil 
ity for West Coast beatniks. Some of them have made it as counselors 
for juvenile delinquents, in the employ of the city or county. The job 
of shipping clerk is a popular one. When you have saved all the money 
you think you are going to need for a while, you quit and pass the word 
around to your friends to go there and apply. In this way a job is "kept 
in the family," just as the pads are kept in the family by being passed 
on from one tenant to the next, with the landlord often none the wiser 
or richer. 

Job opportunities are always more numerous for the girls, of course. 
They can always find work in dress shops and department stores, with 
the telephone company and the telephone answering services. As doc 
tors' reception clerks and dental assistants. If they have had some 
dancing school they can find part-time jobs as dancing teachers in pri 
vate schools and summer jobs in girls' camps. There are any number 
of office jobs a girl can fill. There is manuscript typing and other free- 



154 THE HOLY BABBAKIANS 

lance typing work. In Los Angeles some find jobs as script girls in the 
TV and movie studios. Comparison shopping and the sub rosa job of 
starting whispering campaigns in the subways for commercial products 
is strictly for the "angle-shooters" among the Village chicks in New 
York. Modeling is open to those who have the face and the figure for it. 
The job of B-gui in the taverns is very much sought after because it 
pays well and the hours are desirable, but rarely do the chicks of beat- 
land double as call girls or do a week-end stint in the whorehouses. 
That is a monopoly of respectable working girls and housewives in 
need of extra money to support their families or expensive tastes in 
clothes and cars. It is no part of the beat scene. 

The musically inclined among the girls seek jobs in record shops and 
with music and record publishers. The artistically talented among the 
chicks sometimes make it as dress designers, window dressers and in 
terior decorators, but here they run into competition with the beat ho 
mosexuals. Homosexual writers and artists are the most hard put to it 
to find and hold onto employment of any kind. 

If all else fails there are always the foundations, the Huntington 
Hartford Foundation near Venice West, where one can find food and 
shelter for three months (renewable for three months longer) if he is 
judged eligible and comes properly recommended, and, on the East 
Coast, Yaddo and the McDowell colony. Some have been the recipients 
of Guggenheim fellowships or other grants. 

There are windfalls now and then. An industrial firm or a university 
will let it be known that it needs guinea pigs for some research test, 
like the sleep tests at the U. of C., or some other research problem. One 
beatnik I know made it for some months as a sweater. He sweated so 
many hours a day for a cosmetics firm testing a new product. 

And there are the standard jobs for itinerants and occasional workers 
cab driving, dish washing, bus boy work, filling station work, and, for 
the girls, jobs as car-hops in drive-in restaurants or waitresses. In 
Venice West there are jobs for girls on the Pacific Ocean Park Amuse 
ment Pier. Some of the younger chicks who are still going to college 
or can keep up a reasonable appearance of doing so get money from 
home. If you are older and have children to support and no visible 
means of support, the county will come to your aid. 

With all that, there are still many problems. Poverty is not easy to 
manage. It requires some planning and some conniving. The pressure 



BOWN WITH THE RAT RACE: THE NEW POVERTY 155 

is toward conformity, with regular working hours and consumer spend 
ing in ways and in quantities that will make the American Way of Life 
look good in the Labor Department reports and the Department of 
Commerce statistics. Buying a secondhand suit for five or ten dollars at 
a Windward Avenue uncalled-for clothing store or a three-dollar sec 
ondhand dress at an East Side rummage shop does nothing for the 
statisticians or the Chamber of Commerce. 

Sponging, scrounging, borrowing and angle-shooting are too unde- 
pendable as a regular source of income, and street begging takes too 
much time, as Henry Miller has shown, with inspired documentation, 
in Tropic of Cancer. Pushing pot is too hazardous and peddling heroin 
is a one-way ticket to the penitentiary, if not to the grave. Shoplifting 
is only a stopgap measure at best. It is an art that takes long practice to 
master if one is to make a living at it, and is better left to those who 
have a talent for it. One amateur I know found herself confronted one 
day with an ideological, if not a moral, problem. The supermarket 
where she sometimes shoplifted a quarter of a pound of butter more 
as social protest when butter prices took a sudden jump than from any 
actual necessity was being picketed by strikers. Out of sympathy 
with the striking union she went across the street to the little inde 
pendent grocer and did her shoplifting there till the strike was over. 

Inheritances sometimes provide a few valuables to be divided among 
the needy in true communal fashion. Somebody who has wigged out 
and been committed to a mental institution for a while, or been busted 
for pot for the third or fourth time and sent up for a long stretch, will 
leave behind a pad with household effects, furniture, clothes, books, 
phonograph records, pictures and hi-fi equipment. The accepted prac 
tice is that such stuff becomes community property. If a cat moves out 
of town he sometimes wills such things to his friends quite informally 
rather than try to tote them with him or go to the expense of having 
them shipped. When he comes back he will find any pad open to him, 
or can divide his guesting between several of his choosing. It is the 
traditional hospitality of the poor, one of the few traditions of the 
square that the beat honor scrupulously. 

"Why don't more of them simply marry rich women?" I heard a 
square ask one evening at a party in one of the Venice West pads. 
Chuck Bennison took it upon himself to answer. 

"It's a full-time job/' he said. 



8 



Cats Possessed: 
Ritual and the Beat 



THERE ABE MANY THINGS THAT SEPARATE THE CATS FROM THE SQUARES 
but the first thing that is noticeable when they meet and not always 
the easiest to understand is the beat attitude toward sex. 

Sex among the beat is not only a pleasure, it is a mystique. As in all 
mystery cults, words are important and significant. "Joint" is a place, 
as it is in squareville, but it can also mean the penis or a stick of mari 
juana. "Work" means sexual intercourse. (A job is a gig. ) Once you are 
out of your teens you don't usually dance. You never dance in any pub 
lic place. That's for squares. As long ago as the twenties dancing was 
considered "dry fucking" by the cognoscenti who regarded it as some 
thing for subteen-agers only. Nothing is cornier, or will date you more 
quickly, than talking about "a piece of ass." That went out with "dumb 
bell" and such cute Winchellisms as "heart interest" and "carrying the 
torch." In fact, Winchell was never in at all, as far as the young of any 
generation was concerned. "Honey" is shunned as corny. "Dear" is out, 
even in private talk among beat lovers. Usually only the chick's name 
is acceptable, or some inspired and original nickname, but it's got to be 
good. "Baby" is taboo, except among the Negro beat and in blues lyrics. 
"Hot" is still used for chicks, but only if she is "cool." If she is cool she 
is "crazy in the sack." Not in the "hay," that is corny, only in the sack. 
"Hot" is one of the few words that the beat share with the square in 
the sex department. But the beat use it in a special sense. As in jazz 

156 



CATS POSSESSED: RITUAL AND THE BEAT 157 

music, it means trancelike, the hypnotic "warm all over" feeling that 
Rhonda Tower described. 

Domesticity has the same effect on sex that it has on animals. It 
makes both tame and awkward. The beat prefer to think of themselves 
as cats. Cats have never been domesticated sexually. Don Marquis' 
"archy and mehitaber stories made into a "back alley opera" with 
music by George Kleinsinger and Carol Channing in the role of the 
wayward mehitable who couldn't make it as a domestic house cat and 
found her way back to alley promiscuity is a favorite record among 
the beat. 5 

Propriety has always been galling to some Americans. Henry Adams 
in his letters complains about Boston of the 1870's: "Everything is re 
spectable, and nothing amusing. There are no outlaws." Later, in 
Japan, he was "a bit aghast when one young woman called my atten 
tion to a temple as a remains of phallic worship; but what can one do? 
. . One cannot quite ignore the foundations of society." In Samoa 
some native girls, making sure first that he wasn't a missionary, turned 
him on to a fermented coconut drink called Kawa and put on a dance. 
"Five girls came into the light, with a dramatic effect that really I never 
felt before. Naked to the waist, their rich skins glistened with coconut 
oil. Around their heads and necks they wore garlands of green leaves in 
strips, like seaweeds, and these too glistened with oil, as though the 
girls had come out of the sea. Around their waists, to the knee, they 
wore leaf-clothes, or lava-lavas." On another occasion he witnessed the 
pai-pai, a Samoan strip tease in which the dancer, "showing more legs 
and hips every time, until the siapa hangs on her" finally lets it fall "in 
full view, then snatches up the siapa and runs away." 

But it is not to Henry Adams that the beat of today look for the 
sexual mystique. It is more likely to be Henry Miller. It is a metaphys 
ical impersonalism that constitutes "cool" sex among the beat genera 
tion today. To the square it may sound cold rather than cool "unfeel 
ing" is the way it was described in one article I have seen but there 
is little likelihood that the doubting square, as long as he remains a 
square, or the writer of the article either, will have any opportunity to 
check his opinions against experience. There is no impersonal approach 
to the metaphysical impersonalism of the cool fuck. 

The generation of the twenties went in for heavy necking. Gifts and 
"going out together" played an important part in courtship. Such nice- 



158 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

ties are considered square among today's beat. Their courting is as un 
sentimental as a blues ballade. It is an attack in depth. The soul must 
be engaged as well as the genitals. Speech plays as much of a role in 
the act as it does among the squares, but it is apt to be earthier. The 
four-letter words are taboo among the beat. They are taboo not in the 
puritan sense of forbidden but in the Samoan sense of sacred. In the 
sexual act, the beat are filled with mana, the divine power. This is far 
from the vulgar, leering sexuality of the middle-class square in heat. 
This is not to say that every beatnik is a hierophant of the metaphysical 
fuck and every pad a temple of the hierogamic ritual act. It is the ideal. 
The grail at the end of the Quest. 

To the indignant or shocked square the initiate of beatland would 
say, "Go on, fight it. If you fight anything hard enough you'll end up in 
bed with it Remember Jacob and the angel, and maybe you'll be 
blessed." 

"I Hold a Beast, an Angel and a Madman in Me." 

"I hold a beast, an angel and a madman in me/' Dylan Thomas once 
wrote of himself, "and my enquiry is as to their working, and my prob 
lem is their subjugation and victory, downthrow and upheaval. . . ." 

If Angel Dan Davies stays up all night with wine, pot, sex, music or 
talk and gets fired from his job the next day, or Chuck Bennison goofs 
off and shows up three days late to an appointment, they have some 
sort of justification, if they think they need any ? in the example of 
Dylan Thomas. "After some terrible drunk/' says critic John Daven 
port, 'Tie (Dylan) would come to, somewhere out in the country. Ut 
terly exhausted, nervous, there he would be, suddenly stuttering, diffi 
dent, fumbling in his pocket 1 don't know if you'd mind of course 
you haven't the time' and dragging out a poem for you to read. 
There he was, with his dirty, curly hair, probably wearing someone 
else's trousers, those nail-bitten fingers as if they were stretched out 
for a five-pound note then he produced some beautiful thing like 
this." 

The point is, he produced "some beautiful thing like this." For this, 
nothing was too much to endure, for him or for anybody who happened 
to be involved with him. Theoretically, at least, there is always this 
beautiful thing to hope for and struggle for, whatever the cost. 



CATS POSSESSED : RJTUAi AND THE BEAT 159 

Beast, angel and madman, "and my enquiry is as to their working/' 
said Dylan Thomas, "and my problem is their subjugation and victory, 
downthrow and upheaval." Surely he was referring here to something 
more than whisky, women and panhandling the price of a meal. D. H. 
Lawrence's life was also an "enquiry" into good and evil, ecstacy and 
madness, an "enquiry" that led him to the ends of the earth, to primi 
tive cultures, to self-searchings, in a pursuit that was also a flight. Of 
the Pueblo Indians he wrote: 

(To the Pueblos), everything is alive, not supernaturally but nat 
urally alive. There are only deeper and deeper streams of live, vi 
brations of more and more vast . . . (And) the whole effort of 
(the Indian) is to get his life into direct contact with the elemental 
life of the cosmos, mountain-life, cloud-life, thunder-life, air-life, 
earth-life, sun-life (as in the sacred races). To come into immediate 
felt contact, and so derive energy, power, and a dark sort of joy. 
This effort into sheer naked contact, without an intermediary or 
mediator, is the root-meaning of Pueblo religion. 6 

That was in the early twenties. If Lawrence were alive today he 
might be seeking his "natural" not supernatural god in Zen Buddhism, 
along with the beat generation. To them, too, everything is alive, not 
only the natural forces like air, sun and thunder, but the machines that 
man himself has made. Here is the transcription of a tape recording of 
Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso telling about an experience on their 
trip down the coast from San Francisco. 

CORSO: It happened in front of the Carmel High School. We were by a 
traffic light, waiting to hitch a ride. And these great mechanical mon 
sters began to move! 

LIPTON: Making magic out of the commonplace? 
CORSO: But the commonplace is what we see. This is the fantastic thing. 
We finally see it. And some of us, through cowardice, call it visions, 
hallucinations. But what we see is really real. 
LIPTON: Then the magic is the real? 

GINSBERG: Yes, in the sense that it's what we actually think of. We were 
standing and looking at the red and green traffic signals. Then we both 
suddenly realized Gregory pointed it out, we were both high the 
essential monstrousness of the thing. You know how a face looks, a 



160 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

head with blue and green lights blinking on and off. 

CORSO: That it was capable of moving. And that people had created 

it, thinking it was inanimate. See they don't know the monster is 

moving. 

GINSBERG: The eyes, everything. Monstrous. 

A traffic signal moves. It isn't like a human face, it is human, mon 
strously human. "What we see is really real." Corso rejects the notion 
that it is an illusion; he says it is cowardice to call it a vision, a halluci 
nation. "The commonplace is what we see," it is fantastic and it is really 
real. Asked how he pictured the Muse, Ginsberg replied, "I think of 
it as numen, the numinous/' In the numinous experience the thing seen 
is the real; it is the thing itself experienced, seen, known, in its "true" 
nature and essence. 

^ It is all part of what Carl Jung has called modern man in search of 
a soul. This spiritual search is not confined to the beat generation; it is 
in such waters that Monsignor Sheen has been fishing for years. But 
it is not peace of mind or positive thinking or reconciliation with tradi 
tion or the Church that the beat are seeking. It is something deeper in 
the human psyche and farther back in the history of the numinous ex 
perience, farther back and farther out, than any church of our time has 
to offer. It is not a creation of priests, ministers or rabbis, not as or 
ganized religion is now constituted. The anticlerical bias of the Renais 
sance in Italy, France or England was a love feast compared with the 
loathing with which the nonconformist American, whether of the twen 
ties, the thirties, the forties, or the disafflliated today view the churches, 
their priests and ministers and all the workings of organized religion 
including the churches of India, China and Japan and Zen Buddhism 
itself. Organized church worship and ceremonial of every sort is reli 
gion "shorn of its hair and balls," as Chuck Bennison will tell you. It is 
not even "the opium of the people," as the Communists insist. It lacks 
the properties of a proper narcotic. Everything narcotic or hypnotic has 
been squeezed out of it, along with the sex, the poetry, the art, till there 
is nothing left in it but watered-down weak tea for wine and the sweep 
ings of the chaff for what may once have been the living bread of the 
spirit To their last breath, churches, like empires, have one primary 
aim: to preserve and perpetuate themselves. They are not self -liquidat 
ing institutions. The first oath every new pope takes is never to give up 



CATS POSSESSED: RITUAL AND THE BEAT 161 

any of the powers of the papacy, even if it means his death; and one 
recalls Winston Churchill's remark that he did not become the king's 
first minister to liquidate the British Empire. 

The beat see themselves as outlaws from the Church, something like 
the first Christians who also lived in pads of a sort, in the slum quarters 
of slaves and outcasts, and were hunted down by the officialdom of the 
church and the empire and its fly-cops. When they say "ritual" they 
are not thinking of the overblown and pompous ceremonials of the 
cathedrals, or the unintelligible mumblings of the synagogue, or the 
book-reviewing pulpits of the Jewish Reform temples, either. Or evan 
gelistic camp meetings, or Billy Graham and his show business theatrics 
and publicity stunts. They have read their anthropologists and histo 
rians and are trying to cut back to something like primitive root sources 
for the meaning and function of true myth and ritual, before it was 
taken over by rulers and clerics and organized and institutionalized and 
wrung dry of every esthetic pleasure and every orgastic joy. 

It is during the Christmas season that the disaffiliates are more con 
firmed than ever in their rejection of institutionalized and now com 
mercialized religion, and yet they are faced with a moral dilemma. 
It is the birthday of the Prince of Peace and they are not opposed to 
peace. For once in the year the word love is heard in the streets and 
they are not against love. Christmas is a time that tries the souls of the 
beat, confronting them with decisions and choices and temptations to 
compromise. Whether to go back home for Christmas. Whether to ac 
cept the invitation of a family in squareville whose son or daughter had 
made their acquaintance in one of the espresso cafes. Whether to give 
gifts. Whether to buy Christmas cards and mail them to old friends 
back there. Or make their own, with a little artistry and good taste, 
leaving out the pious cliches and the corny tinsel. Whether to set up 
a Christmas tree, which is, after all a pagan, not a Christian, symbol 
as pagan as Priapus or the Muse. Why would it be so uncool to set up 
just a small tree, a plain white one maybe, or better yet, to make one 
out of driftwood and miniature mobiles and maybe invite a few friends 
in just for the hell of it? A little wine for the belly's sake never did 
anybody any harm, even if it has lost its mana in the empty ceremonials 
of the churches and been further debased in the unspeakable vulgari 
ties of office parties. Or would it be cooler just to ignore the whole 
thing? 



162 THE HOLY BAKBABIANS 

Venice sculptor Stan WinHer solved the problem by setting up his 
Christmas tree in the form of a Holy Rood made of agonizingly gnarled 
and knotted driftwood. He and his wife Ella stayed up late on Christ 
mas Eve fitting it out with painted clay replicas of Gold Coast figurines, 
Ashanti miniatures, early Christian saints, cubistic Philippine statuettes, 
Iroquois masks, the dancing figures of Borneo and some Kachina dolls 
they had brought back with them from the Hopi pueblos. Stan had sold 
something at his recent show and Ella still had her job, so they roasted 
a fifteen-pound turkey the next day and invited everybody who was 
hungry in for Christmas dinner. The party lasted through the night and 
well into the next day, with Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers' 
Ritual drum record on the phonograph, the bongos going all over the 
place and Stan putting on his own version of a primitive wine dance, 
pounding a conga drum under his arm. A corroboree of clowning, pro 
test and reverence characteristic of the holy barbarians. 

The Gospel According to Anthropology and Prehistory 

On the bookshelves of the beat pads you will usually find one or 
more of the books of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Ernst Cassirer, Susan 
K. Langer and Maud Bodkin, in paperback editions or expensive hard 
cover copies that were purchased at the sacrifice of food, perhaps, or 
filched from bookstores or borrowed from a public library and never 
returned. Some of the beat are familiar, from college courses or library 
reading, with Oesterly and Elie Faure, Konrad von Lage, Andrew 
Lang, Franz Boas, Paul Radin and Melville Herskovits. They all have 
paperback editions of the books of Margaret Mead and Penguin books 
like those of Gordon Childe on prehistory and ancient cultures are on 
their shelves and Leonhard Adam on primitive art. 

Not a few among them have had the experience of going back to the 
Church it is usually Catholicism in their search for the numinous, 
but they have always come back to the anthropologists, who occupy 
among the beat today much the same position that the writings of 
Freud did among the Secessionists of the twenties. From their reading 
of church history they know that the sacred dance was banished from 
the Church, just as Athens imposed similar bans and restrictions on 
the goat plays and the mystery religions. Just as the dancing prophetic 
bands of Israel were viewed with suspicion and hostility by the priests. 



CATS POSSESSED: RITUAL AND THE BEAT 163 

Official historians and scribes "glossed" the myths into false history 
and turned the sacred dance into temple pageantry. Robert Graves has 
made a career of such historical-literary-mythological detective work 
and his books are widely read among the younger generation of today, 
both here and in England. 

The so-called Cambridge School of classical anthropologists were 
among the first in our time to give some attention to the role of art 
and the artist in relation to myth and ritual. The ethnographer with his 
pencil poised to note the symbolism and the psychological implications 
of tribal dances, verbal rituals and music also contributed to our knowl 
edge of the subject. Bronislaw Malinowski is perhaps the most percep 
tive of these chroniclers, although the approach, if not the methods, had 
already been employed by H. H. Marett who, more than E. B. Tyler 
and J. G. Frazer, deserves credit for the first clear insight into ritual and 
myth. H. H. Marett approached "the sacraments of simple folk** as 
something to be learned, not something to be dissected and classified 
with scientific detachment or, as has too often been the case, with 
Protestant Christian bias. To possess what you inherit you must earn it, 
Marett said, and some of the investigators in this field have emulated 
his humility. Malinowski, reminding us that religious ritual "does some 
thing infinitely more than the mere sacrilizing of a crisis of life/' that it 
transmits to the initiated not only a knowledge of his duties, privileges 
and responsibilities but "above all a knowledge of tradition and the 
communion of sacred things and beings," goes so far as to add that 
anthropology should also be a study of our mentality in the light of 
Stone Age mentality. 7 

Ritual is the sacramentalizing and socializing of the crises of life: 
birth, puberty, marriage, conception, pregnancy, sickness and death. 
The community, through the rituals, helped the individual to meet 
these crises of life. It helped him to be born, taught him how to live, 
love and work, heal his sicknesses and, at the last, gathered at his bed 
side and helped him to die. From the first birth through the rebirth of 
Initiation to the final Viaticum, ritual gave meaning, beauty and dig 
nity to every critical event of life. This was its purpose and their func 
tion. 

Myth is the god-making process by which the community metaphor- 
izes its aspirations, "le dSsir collectif personife" the collective desire per 
sonified. 8 Myth gives the individual and the group a sense of origins, 



164 THE HOLY BAEBABIAJSTS 

roots, and a sense of continuity. In the arts, myth is at one and the same 
time the conserver of tradition and the material out of which new myth 
is forever being created to fill new needs. As the old gods die their 
rituals die with them. The historic process of god-making has been 
going on from the remotest beginnings to this very day. In between 
periods of relative stability there is always a twilight of the gods, bring 
ing with it chaos, conflict and Angst. We are in the midst of such a 
Gotterdammerung today. 

Religious ritual, if it is not to sicken into the private rituals of neu 
rosis, must have a mass base, at least within the limits of a socially 
integrated group. The lack of such basic rituals in our time is a subject 
of intermittent concern in the public prints. The churchmen, of course, 
see no lack of ritual. They have it, packaged and priced for mass con 
sumption, in spiritual emporiums that come more and more to resemble 
department stores where every day is Christmas. In religious surveys 
four-fifths of those questioned say they believe the Bible is the "re 
vealed word of God." Americans are buying more Bibles than ever be 
fore. Nevertheless other surveys show that fifty-three per cent are 
unable to name even one of the gospels, and a panel of twenty-eight 
prominent Americans, asked to rate the hundred most significant hap 
penings in history, ranked Christ's Crucifixion fourth in a tie with the 
Wright Brothers' flight and the discovery of X rays. 9 Allowing for the 
pious fraud that winks at faking up the figures to the glory of God and 
his churches, the membership attendance figures of organized religion 
are still impressive. Evidently Bibles are bought and seldom read and 
people go to church but come away from sermons and services with 
out being transformed. They are still hungry and searching for ritual 
cleansing and spiritual illumination, according to most studies emanat 
ing from nonclerical (and often enough from clerical) sources. The 
tendency, increasingly, is to look elsewhere, outside the churches, for 
signs of an American mythos and a mass ritual. 

Every so often an inspired cultural anthropologist, usually one of 
amateur standing, discovers an American mass ritual that everybody 
else has overlooked. It might be baseball, or football, or basketball, if 
attendance figures are any criterion. All have their heroes, who might 
well pass for gods, or their high priests and apostles who spread their 
gospels in the sports pages of the newspapers and on radio and tele- 
sion. "What's the score?" might well pass for a "God be with you" 



CATS POSSESSED: RITUAL AND THE BEAT 165 

greeting among the faithful, and serve as a badge and a ritual bond. 
I have even heard it seriously argued tibat the football cheering sections 
and their stylized antics are comparable to the response of the congre 
gation, and the agonia on the gridiron, with its marked yardage lines 
and goal posts, is the modern counterpart of the stations of the cross 
and the Holy Rood. 

Whatever the merits of the argument, the beat generation isn't buy 
ing. Neither the church ritual nor the sports ritual. Except among the 
teen-agers who sometimes admit to occasional church attendance "to 
please mother" is the usual explanation I have yet to find one beatnik 
who has found, or expects to find, any ritual salvation in the churches. 
The beat are not to be found in the baseball stands or tuning in on the 
play-by-play on radio or television. They never know who's ahead in 
the pennant race. The World's Series, which one of our new theologians 
analyzed, in a liberal weekly, as something culturally homologous to 
the tribal religious celebrations of the fall equinox, leaves the beat 
spiritually unmoved and unregenerate. They are likely to take their 
theology in matters of church and sports from Mad magazine rather 
than The Christian Century or Sports Illustrated. 

The Way of Wit's End 

On one occasion when we were having a party at the house, a well- 
educated woman of our acquaintance was having an animated discus 
sion with a young man of nineteen. I could see by her expression that 
she was shocked. Later she came over to me and said, "Do you know 
what that young man just said to me? One plus one doesn't make two. 
One is one and two is two and three is three, and any connection there 
may appear to be between them is illusion, a mere convention of time." 
She was not only mystified or indignant there was something in her 
manner that suggested a suspicion that the young man was poking fun 
at her for being a square but she was horrified. "Why, do you realize 
what that means?" she went on. "It means that nothing is the cause of 
anything else! It means there is no continuity at all to life, or thinking, 
or human relations. It means there isn't any such thing as progress " 
and so on, on and on, getting more and more indignant by the minute. 

I took Alan W. Watts's The Way of Zen off the shelf and pointed out 
this passage for her to read: 



166 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

Zen is a liberation from time. For if we open our eyes and see 
clearly, it becomes obvious that there is no other time than this 
instant, and that the past and the future are abstractions without 
any concrete reality. Until this has become clear, it seems that our 
life is all past and future, and that the present is nothing more than 
the infinitesimal hairline which divides them. From this comes the 
sensation of '"having no time/* of a world which hurries by so 
rapidly that it is gone before we can enjoy it. But through "awaken 
ing to the instant" one sees that this is die reverse of the truth: it 
is rather the past and the future which are fleeting illusions, and 
the present which is eternally real. We discover that the linear suc 
cession of time is a convention of our single-track verbal thinking, 
of a consciousness which interprets the world by grasping little 
pieces of it, calling them things and events. But every such grasp 
of the mind excludes the rest of the world, so that this type of 
consciousness can get an approximate vision of the whole only 
through a series of grasps, one after another. Yet the superficiality 
of this consciousness is seen in the fact that it cannot and does not 
regulate even the human organism. For if it had to control the 
heartbeat, the breath, the operation of the nerves, glands, muscles, 
and sense organs, it would be rushing wildly around the body 
taking care of one thing after another, with no time to do anything 
else. Happily, it is not in charge, and the organism is regulated by 
the timeless "original mind," which deals with life in its totality 
and so can do ever so many "things" at once. 10 

"Why that's Tao!" she exclaimed. It developed that she had read 
translations of Tao literature as long as twenty years before and now 
she recognized the connection, for Chinese Taoism is indeed one of the 
streams of thought that went into the making of Zen Buddhism. Fur 
ther conversation revealed that she had read sporadically in Indian 
Buddhism and was familiar with Vedanta and Yoga. It simply hadn't 
occurred to her, however, that these were anything but subjects of 
study for cultivated people to pursue, to make interesting conversation 
about, certainly not to take seriously as something to act upon, as a way 
of thinking or living. What shocked her, in short, was that this young 
man was making it a way of life. 

"She's a square/' the young man told me afterward. "She knows all 
about it up here * tapping his forehead "but she doesn't dig it, 



CATS POSSESSED: BTTUAL AND THE BEAT 167 

man. Like you got to swing with it or you get hung up on the numbers, 
man, on the little black dots and all that corn, and you never make it" 

"The problem/' says Watts, "is not simply one of mastering different 
ideas, differing from our own as, say, the theories of Kant differ from 
those of Descartes, or those of Calvinists from those of Catholics. The 
problem is to appreciate differences in the basic premises of thought 
and in the very methods of thinking, and these are so often overlooked 
that our interpretations of Chinese philosophy are apt to be a projec 
tion of characteristically Western ideas into Chinese terminology. This 
is the inevitable disadvantage of studying Asian philosophy by the 
purely literary methods of Western scholarship, for words can be com 
municative only between those who share similar experiences." 

Our educated friend had read the books but she had never done any 
of the things the young man had done. He had packed a rucksack and 
gone off by himself into the desert and up the coast to the wilds of the 
Big Sur country, and given himself over to meditation for days at a 
time. He had listened for it in the music of Bach and the music of jazz, 
with equal attentiveness and absorption. He had sought for it in sex 
and pot. He was young, only in the beginnings of the quest, but he had 
a pretty good idea what he was looking for and it wasn't all gathered 
from books. There were birds in his experience, and deserts and moun 
tains and danger and fatigue. He knew he had a long way to go. After 
all, he was only nineteen! 

But he was "on the road." He was akeady one of those holy bar 
barians "who drove cross-country seventy-two hours to find out if I 
had a vision or you had a vision or he had a vision to find out eternity," 
to quote a line from Allen Ginsberg's Howl* 1 He will tell you that what 
he understands by "the beat" is the beat of jazz, the heartbeat, the 
beat in the beatific vision anything but the construction of beaten or 
defeated that the squares, in their mortal fear of freedom, have put 
on the word. 

The general tendency of the Western mind (says Watts) is to 
feel that we do not really understand what we cannot represent, 
what we cannot communicate, by linear signs -by thinking. We 
are like the "wallflower" who cannot learn a dance unless someone 
draws a diagram of the steps, who cannot "get it by the feel" For 
some reason we do not trust and do not fully use the "peripheral 



168 THE HOLY BAKBABIANS 

vision" of our minds. We learn music, for example, by restricting 
the whole range of tone and rhythm to a notation of fixed tonal 
and rhythmic intervals a notation which is incapable of repre 
senting Oriental music. But the Oriental musician has a rough 
notation which he uses only as a reminder of a melody. He learns 
music, not by reading notes, but by listening to the performance of 
a teacher, getting the "feel" of it, and copying him, and this 
enables him to acquire rhythmic and tonal sophistications matched 
only by those Western jazz artists who use the same approach. 12 

The aim, of course, is wholeness, personal salvation, in a word, holi 
ness, and the artist has always been in search of it, one way or another. 
The Dada movement which began in Zurich in 1916 and quickly spread 
to Paris where it became the basis of surrealism, sought to break up the 
habitual linear habits of thought by a deliberate derangement of the 
senses, the sensibility and what not, a misguided search that ended in 
a blind alley because it remained within the framework of duality, "the 
opposites." Thus we find Andre Berg talking about responding "utterly 
but successively to the contradictory appeals of title sensitivity,'* Tristan 
Tzara trying to make it by "unaccustomed caresses, touching the soul 
at points where it has not been touched before, shaking it and stirring 
it with new griefs and happy hazards," and Jacques Vache wanting "to 
shape the personal sensation though the aid of a blazing collusion of 
rare words not often, eh what?" he adds, and any of our young 
barbarians with even a smattering of Zen could tell him today, "not 
ever, man, not ever!" 

For the Tao, 13 the Way, is not to be found by dividing the mind into 
subject and object, trying to observe itself, any more than the eye, 
which sees, can see itself. Watts offers an analogy: "We have two types 
of vision central and peripheral, not unlike the spotlight and the 
floodlight. Central vision is used for accurate work like reading, in 
which our eyes are focused on one small area after another, like spot 
lights. Peripheral vision is less conscious, less bright than the intense 
ray of the spotlight. We use it for seeing at night, and for taking 'sub 
conscious' notice of objects and movements not in the direct line of 
central vision. Unlike the spotlight, it can take in very many things at 
a time. There is, then, an analogy and perhaps more than mere 
analogy between central vision and conscious one-at-a-time thinking, 



CATS POSSESSED: RITUAL AND THE BEAT 169 

and between peripheral vision and the rather mysterious process which 
enables us to regulate the incredible complexity of our bodies without 
thinking at all .... We are not suggesting that Westerners simply do 
not use the 'peripheral mind/ Being human, we use it all the time, and 
every artist, every workman, every athlete calls into play some special 
development of its powers. But it is not academically and philosophical 
ly respectable. We have hardly begun to realize its possibilities, and it 
seldom, if ever, occurs to us that one of its most important uses is for 
that Toiowledge of reality' which we try to attain by cumbersome 
calculations of theology, metaphysics, and logical inference." 

The "other ways of knowing" that we of the West have been seek 
ing, then, are not to be found by deranging the senses or playing tricks 
with the autonomic nervous system, but by learning how to use the 
peripheral vision we already possess. The way to get release from the 
rat race of the ten thousand things is to let go, for it is not "they," the 
"things," which are bedeviling us, it is we who are clutching them. 
"When we have learned to put excessive reliance upon central vision, 
upon the sharp spotlight of the eyes and mind, we cannot regain the 
powers of peripheral vision unless the sharp and staring kind of sight 
is first relaxed. The mental or psychological equivalent of this is the 
special kind of stupidity to which Lao-tze and Kung-fu-tse (Confucius) 
so often refer. It is not simply calmness of mind, but 'nongraspingness' 
of mind." It is the "stupidity" of the Sacred Clown, the Holy Fool. 

Much of the behavior of the holy barbarian toward the square, so 
often incomprehensible and frightening - when it is not revolting -is 
of this character. For the square is by definition the unreleased, the 
rigid, the rectilinear. He is always busy, he is always in a bind. He 
never lets himself alone. He never lets himself "go," so that he is never 
"gone," in the swinging sense of jazz. In tie dance of life he remains 
the wallflower. And hates the hipster as only the wallflower can hate the 
dancer. Hates him and, secretly, envies him. If you want to see this 
mixed hatred and envy in action, read any of the attacks on the beat 
generation in newspapers and magazines. 

"It is fundamental to every school of Buddhism," says Watts, "that 
there is no ego, no enduring entity which is the constant subject of our 
changing experiences . . . there is no real Self (atman) at the basis of 
our consciousness." 



170 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

What, then, is this Self that the holy barbarian is constantly explor 
ing? It is a search for the "Original Face." His basic, original nature. 
Usually it is only after he has explored every avenue of approach to it, 
when he is finally at his wit's end, and knows that he doesn't know, 
that he is ready for enlightenment. It is only then that he can begin to 
swing with the beat 



9 



'God's Medicine": The Euphoric Fix 



THE EUPHOKIA THAT THE BEAT WHO USE MABIJUANA ABE SEEKING IS NOT 

the wholly passive, sedative, pacifying experience that the users of the 
commercial tranquilizers want. On the contrary, they are looking for a 
greater sense of aliveness, a heightened sense of awareness. Of all the 
euphoric, hypnotic and hallucinogenic drugs, marijuana is the mildest 
and also the most conducive to social usage. The joint is passed around 
the pad and shared, not for reasons of economy but as a social ritual. 
Once the group is high, the magic circle is complete. Confidences are 
exchanged, personal problems are discussed with a frankness that is 
difficult to achieve under normal circumstances music is listened to 
with rapt concentration, poetry is read aloud and its images, visual and 
acoustical, communicated with maximum effect. The Eros is felt in the 
magic circle of marijuana with far greater force, as a unifying principle 
in human relationships, than at any other time except, perhaps, in the 
mutual metaphysical orgasm. The magic circle is, in fact, a symbol of 
and a preparation for the metaphysical orgasm. While marijuana does 
not give the user the sense of timelessness to the same degree that 
peyote does, or lysergic acid or other drugs, it does so sufficiently to im 
part a sense of presence, a here-and-nowness that gives the user a 
heightened sense of awareness and immediacy. 

When the marijuana head (vipers, we called them in the thirties) or 
the hype turns on, he has the feeling of setting something in motion 

171 



172 THE HOLY BARBABIANS 

inside himself. He feels the "jolt" as an automobile "feels" the charge at 
the moment of ignition. It lights up, explodes. "Charge" and "explode" 
are also terms used by the head and the hype to describe the kick of the 
drug at the moment of "turning on." The energy charge is the kick and 
the feeling of euphoria that follows is "cool," tranquilizing. When the 
smoke comes in contact with the respiratory mucous membrane, in the 
case of the marijuana smoker, the absorption is rapid. The effects are 
felt immediately and last from one to three hours, depending on the 
potency of the drug and the state of mind of the user. 

Sometimes it is a heightened sense of self that is sought, rather than 
the sensory experience of things outside the self. As Itchy Dave Gelden 
expresses it, "It's like this, man, we need more awareness of the I. It's 
like, before I light up I'm drug with the ten thousand things . . . you 
can't concentrate," but when you light up you can "follow the song of 
yourself. You're listening and you're hearing the song and you're swing 
ing along with it." At other times it is a heightened sensory receptivity 
that is sought, a sharpened esthetic awareness, especially kinesthetic 
awareness. Colors appear to be brighter, sounds sharper, more defined, 
more easily picked out and followed through the chord changes of the 
music. "I never really heard the music till I started listening with pot," 
is something you hear often in beat circles. "It's like switching from an 
old-fashioned phonograph to hi-fi." 

Some of the holy barbarians, particularly the poets and painters, have 
found the cool world of heightened sensory experience in another 
drug peyote. Here is how Mike McClure, the San Francisco poet, 
describes his sensations in Peyote 



Clear the senses bright sitting in the black chair 
Rocker the white walls reflecting the color of 
clouds moving under the sun. Intimacies! The rooms 

not important but like divisions of all space 
of all hideousness and beauty. I hear the 
music of myself and write it down for no one 
to read. I pass fantasies as they 

sing to me with Circe Voices. I visit 

among the peoples of myself and know all 
I need to know. 

I KNOW EVERYTHING! I PASS INTO THE ROOM 
there is a golden bed radiating all light 



MEDICINE": THE EXJPHOBIC FIX 173 

the air is full of silver hangings and sheathes 

I smile to myself. I know 
all that there is to know. I see all there 
is to feel. I am friendly with the ache 

in my belly. The answer 

to love is my voice. There is no Time! 
No answers. The answer to feeling is my feeling 
The answer to joy is joy without feeling. 

The room is a multicolored cherub, 
of air and bright colors. The pain in my stomach 

is warm and tender. I am smiling, The pain 

is many pointed, without anguish. 
Light changes the room from yellows to violet. 
The dark brown space behind the door is precious 

intimate, silent and still. The birthplace 
of Brahms. I know 

all that I need to know. There is no hurry. 
I read the meanings of scratched walls and cracked ceiling. 
I am separate. I close my eyes in divinity and pain. 

I blink in solemnity and unsolemn joy. 
I smile at myself in my movements. Walking 

I step higher in carefulness. I fill 
space with myself. I see the secret and distinct 

patterns of smoke from my mouth 

I am without care part of all. Distinct. 
I am separate from gloom and beauty. I see all. 



SPACIOUSNESS 
And the grim intensity close within myself. No longer 

a cloud 

but flesh real as rock. Like Herakles 
of primordial substance and vitality. 
And not even afraid of the thing shorn of glamor 

but accepting. 

The beautiful things are not ourselves 
but I watch them. Among them. 



And the indian thing. It is true! 
Here in my apartment I think tribal thoughts. ) 



174 THE HOLY BAKBARIANS 

STOMACH III 
There is no Time. I am visited by a man 

who is the god of foxes 
there is dirt under the nails of Ms paw 

fresh from his den. 

We smile at one another in recognition. 
I am free from Time. I accept it without triumph 
a fact. 

Closing my eyes there are flashes of light. 
My eyes won't focus but leap. I see that I have three feet. 
I see seven places at once! 
The floor slants the room slopes 

things melt 
into each other. Flashes 

of light 

and meldings. I wait 
Seeing the physical thing pass. 
I am on a mesa of time and space. 

/ STOM - ACHE ! 
Writing the music of life 

in words. 
Hearing the round sounds of the guitar 

as colors. 
Feeling the touch of flesh. 

Seeing the loose chaos of words 
on the page. 
( ultimate grace ) 
( Sweet Yeats and his ball of hashish. ) 



My belly and I are two individuals 

joined together 

in life. 



THIS IS THE POWERFUL KNOWLEDGE 
we smile with it. 



At the window I look out into the blue-gray 
glooms of dreariness. 



"GOD'S MEDICINE": THE EUPHOKIC FIX 175 

I am warm. Into the dragon of space. 

I stare into the clouds seeing 

their misty convolutions. 

The whirls of vapor. 

I will small clouds out of existence. 
They become fish devouring each other. 
And change like Dante's spirits 
becoming an osprey frozen skyhigh 

to challenge me. 

Tastes and personality traits apparently determine to a large extent 
what is experienced by the user of drugs. When Mel Weisburd, one of 
the editors of Coastlines magazine, submitted to an experiment with 
lysergic acid by a Los Angeles doctor who was investigating the effects 
of several types of hallucinogenic drugs, he saw "gigantic proletarian 
murals" and "a pillar of light against a blackened horizon, like an 
atomic blast" and at one point talked politics with the doctor. 

"You know, Dr. Irving," I said, "capitalism and socialism make 
absolutely no difference at all. It's the germ plasm that counts. Don't 
let them fool you." "I know," Dr. Irving replied, "you're absolutely 
right," as if he had also overturned his soul, as if he had also run 
smack into a channel of yearning, dropping his ludicrous role as 
experimentor. 

But there were also visions of the sublime and the supernatural. 

We were on Olympic Boulevard which, like all six-lane boule 
vards in Los Angeles, was sick with nervous stop-and-go traffic. 
But now Olympic Boulevard was Olympia, a great Sunday-driver 
pageant moving in vehicular streams to and from the cities and 
beaches of beatification. And suddenly, with the logic of a 
heavenly-wise wish, who should appear but a guardian angel 
formed in the likeness of an old girl friend, high on a motor 
scooter. Her fresh wind-blown face radiated the quintessence of 
the power of recognition, the sublimest nostalgia imaginable. In 
our matter-of-fact glance, there was not only the recognition of a 
friend, but the pure principle of kindredness. I had an overpower 
ing warmth for everyone I knew and with everything that lived. 

When we arrived at the park, we began walking towards it. 
, this is it!" I remarked as if marking the place of my ecstasy. 



176 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

The air was unbelievably fresh. "Wonderful," Dr. Irving answered. 
"You're supernormal now, supersane." He patted me on the back. 
"Just breathe this air. Isn't it wonderful? Here, look at this tree. 
What do you think of it?" "Supernatural," I said and savored the 
word as if I understood it for the first time. The lawns, the wide side 
walk, the rows of leafless, sinewy sycamore trees, all of these under 
scored with living emphasis, the word. "Supernatural," no division 
in nature, no separation of myself from anything, everything 
whole, everything integral. And in this fulfillment of existence, 
all desire was lost. Imagination did not exist either, for that was an 
instrument of a falsely conditioned mind forced to manipulate 
pseudorealities, forced to endure the conflicts and the distortions 
of the flesh. Possession was ridiculous, for you possessed nothing. 
Vanity and egotism were frivolous for you were not an individual, 
but the infinite power of the germ plasm of the race. The body 
was a mere pedestal to hold experience. Death, therefore, was 
nothing, nothing at all, for life was indestructible. . . . 

"It's like an orgasm," Dr. Irving suggested, "like an eternal 
orgasm." And yes, yes he was right, by everything that is holy and 
sexual. That constant feeling of abandon, of giving oneself up to a 
driving force that exuberantly fructifies in every living thing: that 
selfless exhilarating releasing flight: that cool, damp breast-milk 
feeling of satisfaction in my throat and lungs. 15 

Did Weisburd's experience with lysergic acid, in which lif e suddenly 
appeared to him like an eternal orgasm, where everything is "holy and 
sexual," work any transformation in his attitudes? A few months after 
the experiment he told me that it had changed his attitude toward his 
own writing, that he now recognized two ways of seeing and knowing, 
instead of one, but that he sees no reason not to continue working at 
a job even when it demands of him everything that he detests, because 
his lysergic vision has taught him that "everything that is, is necessary." 
In short, no transformation in lifeways took place. In this case, at least, 
pharmacy under controlled laboratory conditions with physicians and 
nurses in attendance ( again, how like the square that is ) has proved to 
be no short cut to salvation. 

Apparently, the pharmaceutical fix can only trigger the vision, it can 
not give it content. That must come from the individual himself, from 
his personality patterns and life experiences, just as the manifest con 
tent of the dream comes from the "residue" of the dreamers waking 
life. What distinguishes the holy barbarian from Sunday-go-to meeting 



"GOD'S MEDICINE": THE EUPHORIC FIX 177 

shimmers in paradise like Mel Weisburd is that the holy barbarian acts 
upon his visionary experience. He doesn't just talk about it, or use it as 
a justification for continuing to live and work in the thickening center 
of the society's corruption. And this determination to act is nowhere 
more in evidence than in his use of the euphoric fix, not merely as 
"kicks," or a medical experiment, but as a social ritual. 

On the level of the juvenile delinquent the use of narcotics in the 
magic circle is crude, tentative and entirely unself -conscious. In the case 
of a teen-age juvenile delinquent like Willie Frank, pot was a means 
of belonging, a matter of childish prestige. "I was about fourteen years 
old and still in grammar school and they opened up a little luncheonette 
right across the street from where I lived. There was a bunch of guys 
hanging out there and they were taking pot. I didn't know anything 
about pot or nothing, you know. I just started hanging around with 
them and idolizing them because I thought they were really something, 
a bunch of real smart guys, you know. I think it was a couple of months 
after I started hanging around with them I got accepted and they 
turned me on one day." 

On the high school level, pot is a unifying group-force chiefly be 
cause it is illegal. It is a matter of guilty knowledge; in this case, not 
because it is a sin, but because it is a secret brand mark that holds the 
group together as partners in crime. How strong a bond this can be 
when it is sealed with sex. 

It is only when one comes to consider its use among the holy bar 
barians of the beat generation that anthropological data on the use of 
narcosis in cult ritual becomes clearly relevant. Hallucinatory visions 
are sought in tribal cultures for various purposes, personal and social, 
for divination, for healing and other uses. Such visions are induced by 
fasting, by pain-producing practices (among Christians it would be 
called "mortification of the flesh"), or by hallucinogenic drugs, usually 
accompanied by dance, chanting and music. In the case of the drug- 
using rites it is the shaman who is the custodian of the tribal drug lore. 
The rite is performed under his supervision to keep it always within 
certain social controls. An example of such a rite is the peyote fiesta 
among the Tarahumare of Mexico. 

A peyote shaman and from six to ten men go to gather peyote. 
It is a long journey, sometimes covering a full month ... On arriv 
ing at the spot, everyone goes out to pick peyote ... In the eve- 



178 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

ning they erect a small cross and build a large fire around which 
they dance . . . For two nights the dance continues, part of the 
pickers dancing while the others sleep . . . 

The return of the pickers is celebrated by a -fiesta ... At this 
fiesta the raw buds are eaten . . . The dutuburi is danced all night, 
and the dance of the peyote is performed around a large fire . . . 
Peyote is kept hidden in a cave under an olla, well guarded from 
the rats and human trespassers. Only the shamans can use it The 
other people do not keep it From time to time it may be offered 
food, drink, and cigarettes, especially just before it is removed 
from its container. 

Those who have never eaten peyote fear it most. Should they 
touch the plant they believe they would go crazy or die. Those 
who have once eaten it at a fiesta need have no fear of it, providing 
they treat it properly. 16 

You can sense the excitement of these Mexican Indians as they go 
hunting for the peyote plant, a search not unlike Allen Ginsberg's 
"angleheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection," 
but with more self-control, not, like Ginsberg's hipsters, "dragging 
themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry 
fix." 1T There is, however, a further similarity between them; the hipster 
who knows the connection (who the pusher is and where and when to 
find him and is trusted by him to make the deal) is respected and 
looked up to among drug users in beatland in much the same way 
that the peyote shaman who leads the peyote journey is looked up to. 
It is the element of shamanistic control that is lacking among users of 
marijuana or the hallucinogenic drugs among the holy barbarians. 

As for the use of heroin or other habit-forming drugs, these can only 
be regarded as a corrupt misuse of drug-induced creativity which, of 
course, defeats its own ends, since it results in little or no creativity. 
Jazz musicians will be and have been on many occasions the first 
to attest to the artistic uselessness to say nothing of the physical and 
psychological damage of heroin. Most of them avoid it like the 
plague. Marijuana is, however, quite commonly used by jazz musicians. 
The demands made on the jazz musician for improvisation, hour after 
hour, results in pressures that may drive even the most creative genius 
to call on Mary Juana to help out the Muse. 

Until quite recently, when a standing committee was set up at a 



"GOD'S MEDiciNE 55 : THE EUPHORIC FIX 179 

seminar on jazz and narcotics at the Newport Jazz Festival to study 
"the problem," the tendency among jazz critics and the magazines pub 
lished for jazz musicians and their fans has been to ignore or at least 
soft-pedal the whole subject. If the name of a musician dropped out of 
Downbeat or Metronome for a few months, if no notices of his gigs or 
records were being published, you assumed that he had been busted 
and sent up for a stretch, or that he was sweating out a cure somewhere, 
or had simply dropped out of things for a while to try and pull himself 
together. Many jazz buffs liked it that way. Word got around via the 
grapevine and if you were in the know you were one up on those who 
didn't know. As for the musicians themselves, the users were inclined 
to treat it as a kind of trade secret, and the nonusers preferred to keep 
mum about it, too, asserting, if you pressed them, that it was a private 
matter and really had nothing at all to do with the music. 

Treatment of the subject in the newspapers had been sketchy, partly 
because until recent years jazz musicians have not been sufficiently 
well known by most newspaper readers to rate news space, and partly 
because newspaper reporters are inclined to be friendly to alcoholics 
and, by courtesy, to other addicts. Besides, the newspaperman (and 
woman) is never strictly a square. He is a square with the corners 
rubbed off on the rough realities of life and sometimes even a round 
cat in a square hole. So the subject of jazz and drugs has remained one 
of those best-kept secrets that everyone knows and nobody talks about. 

Except the beat generation, especially the youngsters, to whom the 
jazz musician is the shaman of the cult Whatever he does and says is 
something to be talked about, often and at length. Tex, of the Ray 
Cullen band, is such a cult hero. "One of the most intellectual junkies 
I've known," Tanya Bromberger will tell you. "The guy who just 
makes the scene and doesn't have the actual power of the intellect to 
analyze it (the use of heroin), he will moan and groan every time he 
gets sick. This is the last time he's going to fix, he'll tell you. He's going 
to fix once more and then he's going to kick the habit. But Tex never 
talked like that. No fix was ever the last fix. He knew the real physical 
danger. The night his band closed a bunch were over at Tex's hotel 
room and did up, and one guy went out unconscious and they can 
die from that. He'd been drinking heavily, which does not mix but pro 
duces a very bad reaction. Junkies have all kinds of home remedies. 
They throw guys in bathtubs, they've half drowned people, but he, Tex, 



180 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

knows. He says, It's his upper respiratory system that's paralyzed.' H& 
climbed up on top of him and gave him artificial respiration for twenty^ 
five minutes, in the meantime asking for kitchen salt and water and a 
needle, which they shot into his arms and right away you heard the 
lungs, a horrible gasp as the air rushed in. Tex really knew what he 
was doing. Other junkies risk their lives two, three times a day, using 
the drug without really knowing what it does. He's the heaviest user 
I know but he's the most intelligent. Also he has a ferocious loyalty to 
his fellow musicians. Like some guys would have rolled him out the 
door, let him die. He stood by him and this was the seventh time the 
guy had gone out like that, he told me, and every time he's brought 
him around." 

A story like that will go the rounds of the beat pads and become part 
of the Tex legend. Or the story of how Rock, another hero of the jazz 
and junk cult, kicked the habit. Here is the way Tanya tells it. 

"It was the time Rock and his trumpet player, Mitch, were here and 
the heat was on and they were having trouble getting something and 
Rock finally got something from some girl and both of them fixed up. 
They had a recording date the next morning and they both staggered 
in real late feeling real bad. *0h, that was strong stuff,' they were say 
ing. And that night they did up the third cap and the same thing hap 
pened. They fell sound asleep. Then Rock came over and told Mitch it 
wasn't heroin they'd been using, it was a strong sleeping sedative. Then 
it dawned on them that they'd been going three days without heroin 
and they hadn't been particularly sick. They hadn't felt good but there 
hadn't been any of those horrible withdrawal symptoms. And Tex said, 
'Hell, this is it. 9 Only one of them kicked, Mitch went back on junk six 
months later. But Rock got the monkey off his back for good that 
way with sleeping pills!" 

Everything the shamans of jazz do is legendary material for the 
beat: the gargantuan user, the cat who kicked it, the martyr-hero who 
died of it. Dead, he becomes, like Charley Bird Parker, a cult hero on 
the order of James Dean and Dylan Thomas. 

Bix Beiderbecke, the great cornetist of the twenties, made the Val 
halla of jazz on alcohol. Buddy Bolden, the first of the jazz greats, made 
it posthumously. How he flipped his wig in the middle of a street band 
parade in New Orleans, cornet in hand, and never came out of it, is 



"GOD'S MEDICINE": THE EUPHORIC FIX 181 

another one of those hero legends. Huddy (Leadbelly) Ledbetter made 
it on a combination of booze and murder. Of course all of them were 
great artists of jazz or the legends would never have grown up around 
them in the first place. 

The hip cats among the holy barbarians will tell you they have no 
desire for the heavy stuff, but their curiosity about it is boundless, and 
if you listen to them talking about it you will not fail to notice their 
admiration for jazz musicians who are known to use heroin in heroic 
doses. 

The Little Flower's Report on the Tea-pads 

Before 1944, when New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia's Commit 
tee on Marihuana made public its exhaustive report, the drug had been 
blamed for every crime in the book. In a pamphlet issued by the Inter 
national Narcotic Education Association (Los Angeles, 1936), it was 
called "a most virile and powerful stimulant" that produces "a peculiar 
psychic exaltation and derangement of the central nervous system . . . 
sometimes convulsive attacks and acute mania, and decreases of heart 
beat and irregularity of pulse. Death may result from the effect upon 
the heart." 

This pamphlet went on to say: 

Prolonged use of marihuana frequently develops a delirious rage 
which sometimes leads to high crimes, such as assault and murder. 
Hence marihuana has been called the "killer drug." The habitual 
use of this narcotic poison always causes a very marked mental 
deterioration and sometimes produces insanity. Hence marihuana 
is frequently called "loco weed." (Loco is the Spanish word for 
crazy. ) 

While the marihuana habit leads to physical wreckage and 
mental decay, its effects upon character and morality are even more 
devastating. The victim frequently undergoes such degeneracy 
that he will lie and steal without scruple; he becomes utterly 
untrustworthy and often drifts into the underworld where, with 
his degenerate companions, he commits high crimes and misde 
meanors. Marihuana sometimes gives man the lust to kill un 
reasonably and without motive. Many cases of assault, rape, rob 
bery and murder are traced to the use of marihuana. 



182 THE HOLY BABBAKIANS 

In a column headed "HEALTH ADVICE," the New York Daily 
Worker had this to say about the "reefers." 

Smoking of the weed is habit-forming. It destroys the will 
power, releases restraints, and promotes insane reactions. Con 
tinued use causes the face to become bloated, the eyes bloodshot, 
the limbs weak and trembling, and the mind sinks into insanity. 
Robberies, thrill murders, sex crimes and other offenses result 

When the habit is first started, the symptoms are milder, yet 
powerful enough. The smoker loses all sense of time and space so 
that he can't judge distances, he loses his self-control, and his 
imagination receives considerable stimulation. 

The habit can be cured only by the most severe methods. The 
addict must be put into an institution, where the drug is gradually 
withdrawn, Bis general health is built up, and he is kept there 
until he has enough will-power to withstand the temptation to 
again take to the weed. 

The spread of this terrible fad can be stopped only when the 
unscrupulous criminals trafficking in the drug are rooted out. 

The La Guardia Committee, staffed by a full complement of doctors, 
psychiatrists, psychologists and officers of the narcotic squad of the 
Police Department, and financed by the Friedsam Foundation, the New 
York Foundation and the Commonwealth Fund, began its researches 
in 1940 and reported four years later that "marihuana is not a drug of 
addiction," that "those who have been smoking marihuana for a period 
of years showed no mental or physical deterioration which may be at 
tributed to the drug." Increase in the pulse rate and blood pressure was 
confirmed but "no changes were found in the circulation rate and vital 
capacity." 

Smoking marihuana can be stopped abruptly with no resulting 
mental or physical distress comparable to that of morphine with 
drawal in morphine addicts. . . . 

In most instances, the behavior of the smoker is of a friendly, 
sociable character. Aggressiveness and belligerency are not com 
monly seen, and those showing such traits are not allowed to re 
main in "tea-pads." 

The marihuana user does not come from the hardened criminal 
class and there was found no direct relationship >$t\Y$p. the com- 



"GOD'S MEDICINE": THE EUPHORIC FIX 183 

mission of crimes of violence and marihuana. "Tea-pads" have no 
direct association with houses of prostitution, and marihuana itself 
has no specific stimulant effect in regard to sexual desires. 

The marihuana users with whom contact was made in this study 
were persons without steady employment The majority fall in the 
age group of 20 to 30 years. Idle and lacking initiative, they suffer 
boredom and seek distraction. Smoking is indulged in for the sake 
of conviviality and sociability and because it affords a temporary 
feeling of adequacy in meeting disturbing situations. 

Providing there are no disturbing factors, as is the case in 
gatherings of small friendly groups or parties in "tea-pads," the 
regulated smoking produces a euphoric state, which accounts for 
continued indulgence. . . . The marihuana user acquires a tech 
nique or art in smoking "reefers." This involves special preparation 
of the cigarette and the regulation of the frequency and depth of 
inhalations. In a group of smokers, a cigarette circulates from one 
to another, each in turn taking one or more puffs. The performance 
is a slow and deliberate one and the cigarette, held in a forked 
match stick, is smoked to its end. 18 

The La Guardia Committee report is still the classic study of the 
subject and commands respect in all informed quarters, but the puni 
tive statutes against marijuana are still on the books and are today, if 
anything, more savage and vengeful than they were in 1944. What is 
the reason for this attitude toward the marijuana smoker? 

The animosity between those who do and those who do not whe 
ther it be liquor, pot, sex or any number of other things is almost as 
strong as the animosity between the Haves and the Have-nots. It may 
be that the two confrontations are not entirely unrelated. For one thing, 
there are more Do's among the Have-nots than there are among the 
Haves, and it is the Haves who make the laws. As Angel Dan Davie? 
says: 

"They can pass a law against anything and over night they've created 
millions of new criminals. Maybe it makes them feel good to think there 
are so many of us and so few of them." 

Exclusivity is certainly highly prized among the Haves and the 
feeling of belonging to the small and select company of the virtuous 
and the righteous is probably a factor in prohibition and censorship of 
all sorts. In the case of marijuana it takes on added force from the 



184 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

suspicion of the Do-nots that the Do's are enjoying satisfactions which 
they are, for one reason or another, inhibited from enjoying. This 
accounts for the wildly exaggerated stories of marijuana and sex and 
the fabricated horror tales about mania, insanity, thrill murders, rape 
and robbery. 

So far as the marijuana cats among the beat generation are con 
cerned, no proper understanding of their use of pot is possible without 
probing the psychological and social roots of its use and misuse. 

The Psychological Factors: Pot and the Pleasure Principle 

It is a sad commentary on modern society that a word like euphoria, 
which in Greek meant well-mindedness, cheerfulness, merriment, gra- 
ciousness and glad thoughts, should have come to have pathological 
connotations and to mean in common usage something like a fool's 
paradise. Happiness pills is a popular name for the euphoric drugs. 
The word pleasure, too, has undergone a process of downgrading, in 
usage, at one time narrowing down in the puritan mind to sex and sad 
ism in such expressions as "to take one's pleasure" of a woman, "houses 
of pleasure" for whorehouses and, in law, "at the king's pleasure," a 
phrase that referred to the sentencing of a convicted felon and could 
well mean anything from torture to life imprisonment. 

It was Sigmund Freud who brought the word pleasure back into 
good odor again, but not without a sickroom smell clinging to it. 
Freud raised pleasure to capital status, with a double P, in The Pleasure 
Principle "any given process originates in an unpleasant state of 
tension and thereupon determines for itself such a path that its ultimate 
issue coincides with a relaxation of this tension" 19 a definition that 
the first American young generation to be influenced by Freud, the 
generation of the twenties, took very much to heart, even before he 
had fully formulated it. Most of them, judging from my own observa 
tions of the twenties, had discovered it on their own, without ever 
having heard of Freud. And subsequent generations of American youth 
went right on honoring the definition in the performance as well as in 
the breach long after Freud himself went Beyond the Pleasure Princi 
ple., 20 qualifying and refining and redefining what he meant by pleasure 
and pain and finally winding up with something he admitted even he 
couldn't explain. 



GOD s MEDICINE" : THE EUPHORIC FIX 185 

When it comes to unpleasant tensions needing to be relaxed, the beat 
generation of today knows things that Freud and his generation never 
knew. Poetry, music and the dance have a long and honorable history 
as pleasure-givers, detensers and euphorics. They can be taken in vary 
ing degrees of concentration and in varying doses, depending on the 
education and sensibilities of the "patient." And the same is true of a 
euphoric such as marijuana. 

On the lowest levels of pleasure enjoyed by almost illiterate young 
juveniles like Myra Flores or Willie Frank, it need yield only the 
simplest pleasures to produce a relaxation of tensions. Myra's mother 
works in a defense plant all day and her father in the kitchen of an 
all-night drive-in. She doesn't see much of either one of them, but when 
she does it is words and blows all the way she has scars to prove 
it an unhappy home situation that fits neatly, I think, into the "un 
pleasant state of tension'* that Freud defined as a condition in need of 
relaxation. She finds relaxation in sex "going steady" is no euphemism 
in Myra's set and in drugs. In Myra's case it is heroin when she can 
get it, but most of the time she has to make it on pot, although she 
looks down on it as "kid stuff." From her friends I learned that while 
Myra's boast that she has been on horse since she was thirteen is 
technically true, it is mostly a boast, because the heavy stuff is much 
too costly for a kid of her age and she is still in the sniffing and popping 
stage. What Myra gets out of pot is simple but satisfactory. 

"It makes me feel like they say cool. Mellow like. It makes me for 
get my old man and my old lady, for a while. Like they hassle me all 
the time and what would you do? what would anybody do? I go out 
with the gang and we have a ball. When I'm high and nobody is bug 
ging me I'm easy to get along with, but nothing brings me down faster 
than to get home and find my old man drunk in bed with some broad 
and Mom at the factory and all he can think of to do is bop me 
around just to show me what will happen to me if I rat on him as if I 
ever would! I'm not that kind. Like all I want is both of them they 
should leave me alone. As long as I keep my nose clean and keep 
out of trouble " 

The case against marijuana is usually clinched, in the opinion of 
those who point with alarm, by the argument that it leads to heroin 
addiction. It might, but so might a broken romance or a business fail 
ure. In Willie Frank's case it was just the other way around. It was an 



186 THE HOLY BABBAKIANS 

OD an overdose of horse that led him back to marijuana. 

"So we get this horse and we go up to this guy's house and we jump 
in and Muzzy hits up, you know, he's got the worse habit, he hits up. 
And he hits up the whole thing and he gets blind and he starts nod 
ding, you know, hanging. And this other guy hits up but he only hits 
half o it and he gets blind, he's hanging. So I said, Tm going to get 
high next.' So Muzzy says, 'What you gonna do, use all of it?' and I 
says, 'No, man, only half of it, it's powerful stuff.' So he wants to do 
half of it for me. So I'm sitting at the table and I hit up and like you 
usually take a draw back of the blood into the syringe, like they call 
jacking it, it doesn't really do nothing. But like this time I just shot it 
in there and it hit me right away. And I just went back like and pulled 
the spike out and I laid it on the table, like that. Then the cat sitting 
across the table from me says, he says, 'How do you feel, man?' and I 
said, 'Man, if I get any higher I'll I'm not gonna enjoy it.' 

"Just then my head started f ailing and I couldn't hold my head up, so 
I had to stand up, and Muzzy's there, he's cleaning the spike, you 
know. I said, 'Muzzy, I'm gonna fall out.' He's real small and I just fell 
on him, I fell out. Muzzy said I turned blue and my heart practically 
stopped. And they started shooting me up with salt and water and put 
ting ice on me all over, you know, running ice all over me and they 
said it was more than a half hour before they could even get me up, 
you know. And they were walking me up and down, up and down in 
the parlor so I could come out of it. Well, the first thing I can remem 
ber is the girl and the guy got me there and were walking me up and 
down, up and down, you know. After a while I started walking myself 
and I finally sat down and I was so high I couldn't stand it and I 
couldn't get up again. I started to just go out again. So they get me up 
again and out in the air and I walked around outside. So everybody 
leaves and they go down and take us downtown. They leave me and 
Muzzy off quite a bit of ways from where we're going and we walked 
there. So I had to hold onto Muzzy's shoulder so I wouldn't fall down, 
you know, so I could balance myself. 

"We get down to Main and Market and there's a bunch of guys hang 
ing there and Muzzy starts talking to them. So I go to lean up against 
the wall there and I just started to fall down, you know. Then he would 
have to come over and stop me and get me going and I'd walk myself, 
you know. We were down there about an hour and I kept falling out. 



GOD'S MEDICINE": THE EUPHOBJC FIX 187 

It got so that I was falling out walking, you know. So lie gets somebody 
to drive me home. 

"I get up to the house and go in there and my mother's laying on the 
bed. Well, you know, I don't want her to see I'm high cause like, well, I 
told her I wasn't going to get high any more. She takes one look at me, 
you know, and she gets scared to death, she thought I was going to 
die. I was just chalk white and my eyes were up in my head somewhere 
and I just looked like I was dead, you know. I was high for three days 
and like you just can't sleep and before that stuff got out of my system 
I was high three days, and that was the last time I shot up." 

Willie found that after the first few days of withdrawal pains the 
pot made it for him okay. 

"We used to go up there (to New York's Harlem) and this guy Sam 
used to get the best pot you ever seen. It was Panamanian pot and I 
think that's the best pot there is. They were in great big bombers, man, 
like long size. They were a dollar a joint like but they were worth it 
We'd get up there, this guy Frenchy and I and we were real comedians, 
you know, we were really something. That cat would put on a whole 
stack of records that made a story like, you know. Like all different 
singers but they just came out and made a story. And this guy, as the 
records would be playing, he would answer them, you know, like, the 
record would come on and he would talk back to the singer and man, 
it was a gas. 

"One night these two girls are there and there are about eight of us 
in the place and we're all high. Like I'm sitting in this great big chair 
and it's like a king's chair, you know, with a great big curve in the 
back and everything. I'm sitting there and Frenchy comes over and 
says, 'So what do you think, Mr. President?' So we come on like we're 
having a council, you know, this guy was minister of the interior and 
this one is secretary of state or something, and this went on for hours 
and we're passing pot around, and we're sitting on top of the world. I 
mean like I was having more fun with pot than I ever was with horse 
any day. 

"Like one night there was these two lamps in the place, you know, 
Chinese figures, and one was male and the other one was a female, you 
know. So Frenchy he would walk up to one and he'd say, 'What did 
you say?' and he'd say to us, *Shh, I'm talking to the lamp.' And then 
he'd listen and he'd say, 'Oh, yeah/ and he'd start talking to the other 



188 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

lamp, you know. Tlien the two lamps would be talking to each other 
and he would be like interpreting. One lamp would tell him something 
and he'd tell it to the other lamp. We'd be sitting there and listening 
and listening, you know, really hung up on what's happening with 
these two lamps and what are they saying. He'd say, 'None of that 
now' and we had to stop blowing pot at the statues because he said 
they got too high and were arguing with each other, you know. 

"Oh, yeah, I'll never forget my first time getting high on pot with 
these guys. These guys were above us more educated like and they 
got imagination, you know, and they could make up things and I 
wanted to get high with them, me and Ollie and Sneezie. And Sneezie 
goes up and buys a pound of pot, you know, and we all go up to 
Frenchy's house. We're in Frenchy's kitchen, rolling pot, and pretty 
soon we all go into the parlor and he's got the radio on real low, no 
lights on, just a little red light. Nobody could see nobody. We're pass 
ing a joint around and all you can hear is puff, puff, puff and all you 
can see is the light from the cigarette. So this goes around I don't know 
how long and everybody is blind, you know. And then pretty soon you 
would hear a kind of snicker, then maybe the guy next to you would 
snicker and then the whole place would bust up and we'd all be in 
hysterics. We'd sit there and nobody could see nobody and everybody's 
laughing and snapping up and nobody's saying nothing. And it was a 
ball. But then you can be brought down. Like if Sneezie came in and 
turned on the light it would change everything. He just came in and 
turned on the light and it just knocked out the whole thing. Like a guy 
should come down easy, but some guys are sadists and bring you 
down hard." 

What Willie had to say about pot and sex bears out the La Guardia 
Committee report. 

"These two girls I used to get high with are in show business, you 
know, I don't know what they do. I never asked them or nothing, like 
they just came up to get high. They lived in the same building and 
they'd come up and they'd have like a housecoat on with nothing under 
it and it would fall open and nobody says nothing. There was a few 
times I did get high on pot where there was a situation where I'd think 
about sex and I'd just have sex, you see. It's perfectly possible. I mean, 
a couple of times I got high with these girls and they want to have sex 
and we got high and we had sex with both of them. If you're going to 



"GOD'S MEDICINE": THE EUPHORIC FIX 189 

a party with a bunch of guys and girls and everybody gets high and 
there is sex, well, you just do whatever is going on, that's all When I 
was messing around with horse the only time I had sex was when I 
wasn't high, but when I was on horse it was out Once I laid up with 
a girl when I was high on horse and it went on all night, we were at it 
from twelve o'clock till dawn, and it was fun, you know, but nothing 
was happening. You can't come to a climax." 

Between the simple pleasures of make-believe councils of state, con 
tagious laughter and talking lamps of these juvenile delinquents and 
the complex, modern, cool jazz, philosophical clowning and the poetry 
readings of the more sophisticated of the holy barbarians there is not 
so much a difference of kind as of degree. Their orbits intersect at the 
point where the conflicting, contradictory demands of everyday living 
become unendurable and something is required to relax the tensions. 
The square takes a Miltown pill, the pothead takes a puff of marijuana 
and the junkie takes a heroin fix. Here again it is a question of degree, 
of means more than of ends. 



PART III 



10 



The New Apocalypse 



A PROPHET CAME TO TOWN. RUMOR HAD PRECEDED HIM. HE WENT ABOUT 

in an aura of wine and marijuana with a retinue of disciples at his 
heels, all of them drunk or stoned out of their minds with poetry and 
pot. He spoke in esoteric riddles and obscene metaphors. Lord Byron 
had introduced the open collar, Walt Whitman the open road, this new 
prophet the open fly. Dylan Thomas had come amid Philistine rumors 
of "she-bears, witches on the mountain, exploding pit-heads, menstruat 
ing babies, hounds with red ears, Welsh revivalists throwing dynamite 
and semen in all directions," according to Kenneth Rexroth. 21 This new 
poet-prophet had the Philistines spreading breathless tales of bearded 
hermaphrodites speaking in secret tongues, jazz Saturnalias, manholes 
erupting piss, pus and corruption, and bebop poets careening madly 
down the San Francisco streets naked on roller skates. 

People I knew in the Bay city reported huge throngs of youngsters 
crowding into poetry readings, carrying on like Elvis Presley fans at a 
Rock and Roll binge, shouting, stamping, whistling, doing snake dances 
in the aisles. A mailed announcement from San Francisco advertising 
one of these readings went like this: 

CELEBRATED GOOD TIME 

POETRY NIGHT 

Either you go home bugged or completely enlightened. Allen 
Ginsberg blowing hot; Gary Snyder blowing cool; Philip 

193 



194 THE HOLY BABBAMANS 

Whalen puffing the laconic tuba; Mike McClure his hip hight 
notes; Rexroth on the big bass drum. 

Small collection for wines and postcards. 
Abandon Noise Strange pictures on walls 

Oriental music Lurid poetry 

Extremely serious 

TOWN HALL THEATRE 

One and only final appearance of this Apocalypse 

Admission free 

A visiting poet from the East Coast, Richard Eberhart, had written 
an account of these goings-on for the New York Times Book Review. 
"Poetry here has become a tangible social force, moving and unifying 
its audience, releasing the energies of the audience through spoken, 
even shouted verse, in a way at present unique to this region." 22 He 
attributed this activity in part to the establishment three years before 
of the Poetry Center at San Francisco State College, but from what I 
could gather from other sources and from a visit to San Francisco, the 
Poetry Center there was not much different from the dry, droning 
poetry readings at New York's Poetry Center at the Y.M.H.A. or any 
similar place. The only time the San Francisco State College Poetry 
Center was really swinging was when the poets of the new Apocalypse 
took the stage and their disciples whooped it up. Then it was a real ball. 

I was not unprepared for Allen Ginsberg's visit to Los Angeles, since 
he had written me from San Francisco, but when he got to town Nettie 
and I were so exhausted from all the poetry-reading parties we had 
been throwing for visiting poets that I was relieved when the editors of 
Coastlines, the L.A. quarterly, offered to sponsor the reading. I knew 
they had no use for the sort of thing Ginsberg was writing or what we 
were doing in Venice West (in fact, much of their magazine is devoted 
to attacking it), but now that it looked like it might be attracting wide 
public attention they wanted to get into the act. 

The reading was to be held in a big old-fashioned house that was 
occupied by two or three of the Coastline editors, living in a kind of 
Left Wing bohemian collective household, furnished what there was 
of furniture, which wasn't much in atrociously bad taste, nothing like 
the imaginative and original decor of the beat generation pad, even the 
most poverty-stricken. 



THE NEW APOCALYPSE 195 

I consented at their request to conduct the reading, "chair the meet 
ing/* as these people are in the habit of saying. To them everything is 
a meeting. In this case they got more than they bargained for. Allen 
showed up high mostly on wine, to judge by the olfactory evidence 
and, after an introduction by me, in which I tried to spell out something 
of the background of this "renaissance," he launched into a vigorous 
rendition of Howl. Launched is the word for it. It was stormy, wild 
and liquid. In his excitement he tipped over an open bottle of wine 
he had brought with him, spilling it over himself, over me and over 
his friend Gregory Corso who was with him and was also scheduled 
to read. 

Allen and Gregory had refused to start till Anais Nin arrived, and now 
that she was seated in the audience Allen addressed himself exclusive 
ly to her. He had never met Anais before and knew her only from 
Henry Miller's books. She had written the preface to Miller's The 
Tropic of Cancer in the Paris edition of the book. He was sure that 
Anais was one person who would be able to dig what he was putting 
down. For him there was no one else in the audience but "beautiful 
Anais Nin." That she had long ago come to the parting of the ways 
with Henry Miller and was making her own scene now, a very different 
scene from the one they had once made together on the Left Bank of 
Paris, made no difference to Allen. She was still, to him, the Anais Nin 
of the Henry Miller saga, a fabulous figure out of a still brightly shim 
mering past. Artistically, he felt, she was his nearest of kin, and Anais 
very graciously acted out the role he had cast her in that night. 

The audience, except for Anais and the people we had brought with 
us from Venice West, was a square audience, the sort of an audience 
you would find at any liberal or "progressive" how that word lingers 
on even though the song is over fund-raising affair of the faithful 
who are still waiting for the Second Coming. Few of them had come 
knowing what to expect. They never read anything but the party and 
cryptoparty press. The avant-garde quarterlies are so much Greek to 
them. Most of them don't even know such magazines exist any more. 
They associate that sort of thing with the little magazines of the 
twenties which were swallowed up with the advent of the Movement, 
the real Movement (capital M), in the thirties and transformed into 
weapons in the class struggle. The few who had heard rumors of what 
was going on in San Francisco and Venice West were there as slum- 



196 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

mers might go to a Negro whorehouse in New Orleans, to be with, 
briefly, but not of. But even they were not prepared for Howl, or for 
the drunken, ecstatic, tortured, enraptured reading Allen was giving it 
that night. A very moving performance, for all his tangle-tongue bob 
bles and rambling digressions. He was reading from the book, which 
had just came out, but he changed words, improvised freely, and sup 
plied verbally the obscenities that the printer had in a few cases de 
leted. 

As it happened, Allen and Gregory were not the only ones in the 
place who had been drinking. There was one other in the audience. 
He was someone who had drifted in, having somewhere picked up one 
of the pluggers advertising the reading. At first he applauded Allen's 
reading at all the wrong places and too loudly. Then he took to 
cheering, the kind of cheers that are more like the jeers they are in 
tended to be. I watched him and it struck me that he looked and 
sounded like a brother Elk on the loose, or am American Legion patriot 
on a convention binge. When Allen got to the poem America, the 
drunken square was visibly aroused. He began to heckle. Allen ignored 
him and, at one point, interrupted the reading to ask the heckler, very 
gently, to hear him out and he would be glad to talk to him about it 
later and listen to any comments or criticism he cared to make. That, 
and disapproving scowls from some members of the audience who, 
being squares themselves and sober dislike anyone "making a 
scene," stopped him for a few minutes. 

Gregory Corso now got up to read or, rather, sat down to read 
Gregory, unlike Allen, is the gentle, relaxed persuader rather than the 
shouter. At least he was that night. When the drunk started heckling 
him, too, he turned the face of an injured angel to him. When that 
failed he reversed himself and tried shock therapy 

"Listen, creep, I'm trying to get through to you with words, with 
magic, see? I'm trying to make you see, and understand " 

The square had an answer for that. "Then why don't you write so a 
person can understand you, instead of all that highfalutin crap?" 

"You will understand," Gregory replied patiently, "if you open your 
self up to the images. Try to get with it, man." 

"You think you're smart, don't you?" 

Gregory ignored the remark and went on with his reading. Nothing 



THE NEW APOCALYPSE 197 

could have angered the drunk more. It brought out the righteous citi 
zen in him. 

"Think you know it all, don't you? I know your kind. It's punks like 
you that are to blame for all this all this " he sputtered, unable 
to make up his mind which of the crimes punks like this were to blame 
for were equal to the enormity of the occasion. He tried again, gave 
up, turned a beet red and, to cover his chagrin, launched into a tirade 
of uninspired, stereotyped, barroom profanity, ending with, inevitably, 
an invitation to "step outside and settle this thing like a manr 

Gregory grinned. "Yeh, I know, you want to fight. Okay, let's fight. 
Right here. Not with fists, you cornball. That's baby stuff. Let's fight 
with a mans weapon with words. Images, metaphors, magic. Open 
your mouth, man, and spit out a locomotive, a red locomotive, belching 
obscene smoke and black magic. Then I'll say: Anafogasta. Rattle- 
boom. Gnu's milk. And you'll say: Fourth of July, Hydrogen bomb! 
Gasoline! See? Real obscenities. . . ." 

The drunk was indignant. He was outraged. When he heard snick 
ering in the audience he started toward the front of the room, menac 
ingly, repeating his challenge to step outside and settle this thing 
"You're yella, that's what. Like all you wise guys. You're yella " 

Ginsberg got up and went forward to meet the drunk. 

"All right," he said, "all right You want to do something big, don't 
you? Something brave. Well, go on, do something really brave. Take 
off your clothes!" 

That stopped the drunk dead in his tracks. 

Ginsberg moved a step toward him. "Go on, let everybody see how 
brave you are. Take your clothes off!" 

The drunk was stunned speechless. He fell back a step and Allen 
moved toward him, tearing off his own shirt and undershirt and fling 
ing them at the heckler's feet. "You're scared, aren't you?" he taunted 
him. "You're afraid." He unbuckled his belt, unzipped his fly and 
started kicking off his trousers. "Look," he cried. "I'm not afraid. Go 
on, take your clothes off. Let's see how brave you are," he challenged 
him. He flung his pants down at the champ's feet and then his shorts, 
shoes and socks, with a curious little hopping dance as he did so. He 
was stark naked now. The drunk had retired to the back of the room. 
Nobody laughed. Nobody said a word. The audience just sat there, 



198 THE HOLY BAKBABIANS 

mute, staring, fascinated, petrified, till Allen danced back to his seat, 
looking I couldn't help thinking at the moment with inward amuse 
ment like Marcel Marceau, the great French mime, doing his hopping 
little David and Goliath dance. Then the room was suddenly filled with 
an explosion of nervous applause, cheers, jeers, noisy argument Our 
hosts, the editors of Coastlines, had been having a huddle on the side 
lines. Now one of them, Mel Weisburd, dashed up front and stood 
over Allen menacingly. 

"All right," he shouted, "put your clothes on and get out! You re 
not up in San Francisco now. This is a private house . . . you're in 
someone else's living room. . . . You've violated our hospitality. . . . 
If this is what you call . . ." 

He looked over at me as if to say, "You're chairman here, do some 
thing. 7 ' 

I rapped for order like a proper chairman and announced the next 
order of business. Gregory Corso would read another group of poems 
and then we would hear from Allen Ginsberg once more with his 
poems Sunflower Sutra and A Supermarket in California. Corso was 
all for leaving at once. "We'll go somewhere where we can get good 
and drunk and take Anais Nin with us." But Allen shook his head 
and quietly put his clothes on, one piece at a time, in slow motion, 
smiling to himself with half-closed eyes. A sly, mysterious, inner- 
directed Buddha smile. 

The reading went on amid general approval and with closer, more 
respectful attention than before. The incident had sobered up the 
drunk. When the reading was over he approached Allen and said, 
loud enough for everybody to hear, that he was sorry he had made 
such an ass of himself and where could he buy a copy of Howl? 

Through it all Anais Nin, faithful to the role in which the poets had 
cast her, sat imperiously still, only slightly disdainful of the hubbub, 
like a queen on a throne. 

Stuart Perkoff, who was present, later made the incident the theme 
of a poem 

THE BARBARIAN FROM THE NORTH 

for Allen Ginsberg 
Blind as roses 
we sit in the evenings in rooms of our own choosing 



THE NEW APOCALYPSE 199 

rooms filled with intricacies o many delicately structured parts 
which dazzle, and fascinate, and alter appearances and statements. 

Everything with its own clear limits 
Everything marked and classified 
All aspects known 
All new structors viewed with distaste 

What are we to say, then of a man 

who takes off his clothes in someone else's living room? 

Are we to applaud? 

What is his nakedness to us? 

What do we care about his poems? 

Do you realize that he is in the light? 

How can I be expected to read! 

He makes too much noise! 
He says dirty words! 
He needs a bath! 
He is certainly 

drunk! 

I hope he soon realizes, that this is, after all, now 
and we have many wonderful things to amuse us 

when we want to see clowns 
we go to the circus. 

is he gone yet? can I come out 
now? 

Transform the Audience 

There is nothing wrong with entertaining an audience. The only 
trouble with it is that "show business" has loused up the word for 
any intelligent or honest-talking use. Likewise there is nothing wrong 
with instructing an audience, except that the pedants have loused 
up that one. In fact, there is nothing wrong with any of the common- 
sense concepts of the relation between the artist as performer and the 
audience as listener-spectator. It is the dishonest, meretricious use to 
which the artist-performer's function has been debased that makes the 



200 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

trathtelling artist bristle when anyone uses words like entertain or 
instruct in connection with "audience appeal." 

The artists who can be said to be identified with the beat generation 
in one way or another lay chief stress on another function of the artist 
in his relation to society. He holds that it is not enough to entertain 
and instruct the audience, he must also transform it. When the San 
Francisco poet Robert Duncan visited Venice West I should say at 
once that Duncan came not like the barbarian from the north in dirty 
dungarees and leather jacket, but more like an esthete, an exquisite 
in a long greatcoat with flaring sleeves that he wore over the shoulders 
like a cape, Oscar Wildly he had some observations to make on this 
subject: 

"At first there is no separation between the writing and the concep 
tion of the poem and where it is going to be delivered. Still, as it's 
written it is always aimed at the audience it is meant for. The poet 
must have some urge for a large audience, which is also a social urge. 
What that audience is to be is not clear yet to me, at least but 
that social urge must certainly be to transform the nature of the audi 
ence. Not only to find his audience, but the audience must find him, 
and finding his audience he would also find the ritual conditions nec 
essary to transforming the audience. 

"At the present time when we have poetry readings at a Poetry 
Center, rising out of universities, the poet's urge is disruptive, actually, 
^f these institutions." 

Duncan was, at the time, codirector, with Ruth Witt-Diamont, of 
the Poetry Center at San Francisco State College. 

"Poets have not yet learned to distinguish between the intimate 
poem and its intimate audience and the public poem . . . Marianne 
Moore, for instance, is a personality so we treat her as such, but she's 
not in her poetry. We organize a poetry center like you would organ 
ize plays today, consumerwise. We insist that the thing we call the 
public should support poetry, but it shouldn't, because this thing 
called the public now is the thing the poet abhors. He wants people, 
the public, to be completely changed. We ask the city to support it 
civically, but we don't believe in that city, we believe in the other city 
that men have talked about from the beginning. If a meeting of people 
hearing poems can be transformed into that city, then the poet has 
his moment, otherwise he wanders away from such a reading never 
wanting to read in public again." 



THE NEW APOCALYPSE 201 

Here I wish to tick off a few highlights from my experience with 
the problem o trying to transform the audience. 

AN OFF-CAMPUS READING IN WESTWOOD, California, before 
an audience of students, some of them English majors and young in 
structors. A few older women. The place, a studio in a remodeled gar 
age, a collegiate version of a beat pad. Navaho Indian rugs on the 
floor. Van Gogh's yellow "Sunflowers" on the wall. Unusual winter 
weather for California. Outside, cold with coat on. Inside, frigid with 
coat off. No heating at all. My hands and feet are stiff, congealed, by 
the time I'm half through the manuscript of my (at that time unpub 
lished) Rainbow at Midnight. The room is in darkness except for the 
gooseneck lamp by which I am reading. In the twenties it would have 
been candlelight, and I would have been cross-eyed with eyestrain 
by this time. It's a floor-sitting audience but a stiff, unrelaxed, uncom 
fortable one. 

Rainbow is not just a collection of poems, it is a book of poems 
structured to build up a line of thought from start to finish. Not easy 
to follow at first hearing. It wasn't my idea to read it at one sitting. 
Three hours! But these are earnest young seekers and word had gotten 
around that this was deep stuff, steel-shot caviar for stout intellectual 
mastication. I should be flattered but my jaws ache just dishing up the 
stuff. I finally reach a good stopping place and call for a seventh in 
ning stretch. I come back from the bathroom to find everybody still 
squatting there, with only the minimum change of posture to ease 
muscle strain. This is a well-educated audience. It has learned that 
culture comes high in effort, mental application and physical incon 
venience. 

The reading is not without its personal rewards. Out of the corner 
of my eye I can see the faces and by now I know just which eyes will 
light up at this or that passage, which ones will flash a quick sign of 
recognition at this or that allusion, which will register shock at a sur 
prisingly heretical phrase on the next page, or a far-out metaphor. 

I am numb in mind and limb by the time the reading is over. The 
audience creaks to its feet but not an honest groan in the crowd. 
Lively discussions are started. A nice elderly lady comes up to me, her 
eyes moist with tears, and kisses me on the cheek. She tells me the 
experience has opened new vistas in life to her. Is this one of my 
transformed ones? I listen in on one discussion circle and wander over 



202 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

to another. It is English Lit talk. Where does Rainbow fit in? What 
category? I hear names dropped. Yates, Pound. T. S. Eliot. Joyce. 
Objective correlative. Free association. Vers libre. It reminds one of 
this and another of that. That indispensable correlation. Frame of ref 
erence. Opinions differ about the poems but everybody agrees it was 
a wonderful evening. 

Not for me. All I want to do is get home to my warm, unesthetic- 
looking gas heater. 

Afterthoughts: Wrong poem, wrong people, wrong place. Some 
poems require study before hearing and Rainbow is one of them. Al 
though there are parts that are clear enough at first hearing, the struc 
ture and many of the metaphors and allusions require study before 
they yield their full meaning. The voice, the sound, does add a dimen 
sion to the meaning, but not until the other dimensions are akeady 
present in the mind of the listener. This is not true of all poems but 
it is true of a poem of any length or complexity. The wrong people, 
too, because college-trained young people come to a poetry reading 
as they would to a classroom. They come to be instructed, not to be 
entertained, much less to be transformed. It is like a lecture with reci 
tation to be followed by criticism and discussion. The academic daisy 
chain: a paper on which you make notes for a paper to be read for 
others to make notes on and write a paper. No communication, no 
mutuality, no climax. The little old lady with tears in her eyes? I don't 
want to sound ungrateful but my guess is she was moved by all the 
wrong things and in ways that would have been embarrassing to me 
if I had taken the trouble to ask. It's like a heathen being converted 
by a typographical error in the Bible. I'd rather have a poem panned 
for the right things than praised for the wrong ones. Wrong place, be 
cause well, let's put it this way: a bed of nails is no place for a love 
scene. 

READING IN A TRACT HOUSE in Inglewood, a L.A. suburb, be 
fore an audience of teachers, psychiatrists, psychology majors, anthro 
pologists and their wives. The interior d^cor of the house is plainly a 
protest against the tract house conformity of the exterior, but a polite 
protest, a private one: modern furniture modified by considerations of 



THE NEW APOCALYPSE 203 

comfort, nothing stuffy or overstuffed, but everything well padded. 
Lighting subdued but direct, nothing indirect or extreme, no home- 
crafted parchment shades or modernistic metal contraptions. Two sets 
of bookshelves. One in the living room, for the eyes of casual visitors, 
business friends and drop-in neighbors. Another in the bedroom for 
the eyebrow-raising kind of belles-lettres and the sexual esoterica of 
the professional psychiatrist's library. Everything in its proper place. 
Tonight my host is making an exception. He is bringing the bedroom 
into the living room for an evening. A live poet is going to read live 
poetry, that is, poetry that isn't in the curriculum; some of it isn't even 
in the books yet. "Go ahead, shock 'em," he tells me. Tve prepared 
them for you and they know what to expect, so" with a sly wink 
"don't disappoint them." He had met me once before in what was for 
him, and his wife, a delightfully shocking experience and he wanted 
to share it with a few chosen friends. He had gone out of his way to 
buy a few literary quarterlies containing poems of mine. "Give 'em 
End of the Line," he urges me, "and I Was a Poet for the FBI. That 
ought to do it!" 
I open with Inquest. 

Lock the door. Let no one leave the room. 
A crime has been committed here. An old man 
Stricken on his bed, his face turned to the wall, 
A derelict six days dead and stiffening 
In a rented room. The headlines in their short 
And ugly words of violence report a miracle. 
This morning at the Mass the wine turned water 
And the bread to stone. Cold April comes. 
The fruit is still-born in the seed . . , 23 

I look around me as I continue no darkroom-spotlight effects here, 
no floor-sitting, but I can see that the images are getting through to 
this audience. They are used to dealing with word-symbols. I follow 
with I Was a Poet for the FBI. The laughs come in all the right places 
but it is nervous laughter. I have trapped them into laughing, out of 
the repressed, loyalty-oath-bound recesses of their minds, at something 
they have been bound, bludgeoned and propagandized into fearing 
and respecting. 

I continue with a reading of End of the Line. After the first four- 



204 THE HOLY BARBABIANS 

letter word a schoolteacher gets up and walks out. The wives move up 
closer, with rapt attention. I know this is going to make trouble later 
but what the hell, I'm not billing myself as a marriage counselor with 
a proud record of practical adjustments and sensible reconciliations. 
I'm here to make trouble all right, but not that kind of trouble. That's 
only a side effect of the good medicine I'm putting out and you've got 
to take your chances. Another patient is going over the hill, on a pre 
tense of using the bathroom, but I notice that he doesn't come back. 
Instead I hear him in a loud argument with the schoolteacher out in 
the patio. These tract house walls are paper-thin and their palaver out 
there is disturbing the reading. There has been a good deal of drink 
ing and the pair in the patio are noisy-drunk by this time. 

The reading is over finally, amid a buzz of excitement. The wives 
want to know where they can get printed copies of the poems. The 
husbands shake my hand approvingly but their hearts aren't in it. 
They have reservations. Couldn't it wouldn't it be even more ef 
fective with some things hinted at rather than you know, more 
subtle? But Oh, yes, they want the poems, too. "I'd like to show them 
to my secretary at the office," one confides to me, whispering. "She's 
one of those prim kind." Another tells me "I don't know what you'll 
think I'm a technician, working on missiles after that poem of 
yours, The Ultimate Weapon." He wants a copy of Rainbow and 
will I inscribe it for him and his wife? I do. He repeats the bit about 
being a missile-maker and insists on some reaction from me about 
that. "What would you say to me?" "I would say to you," I tell him, 
"what Walt Whitman said to the prostitute: "Not till the sun denies 
you, do I deny you/" He is satisfied, chagrined, chastened. He has 
done his penance and can go back to the shop with some vague feel 
ing of absolution. Or maybe it's a special dispensation. Anyway, he 
wants to be invited to more readings. 

I join the walk-outs in the patio. They both descend on me with 
disclaimers of discourtesy. It was just too damn hot in the room. But 
and they suddenly remember a radio program I was on, being inter 
viewed on the subject of censorship did I mean that there shouldn't 
be any censorship laws at all? He is a high school teacher and has re 
sponsibilities to impressionable young boys and girls. He can take it, 
nothing can corrupt him, but the usual buts. I have heard it all be 
fore, but I listen and refer him back to the broadcast. I had answered 



THE NEW APOCALYPSE 205 

all those questions and he knows it, but lie wants to go over the 
ground again. It gives him a chance to tell me again what an invulner 
able purehearted, pure-minded Galahad he is. 

An anthropologist has been in the kitchen lushing up the whisky all 
during the reading. As I leave he is politely apologetic about having 
missed the reading which he had no trouble hearing through the 
kitchen door, of course but he just doesn't believe poetry is intended 
to be read aloud. This from a student of oral cultures, some of which 
do not even have a written literature, but an extensive oral literature, 
much of it poetry. 

At the door my host is sweating with excitement and self-congratu 
latory bravado. "You killed 'em," he says. "Some of them will never 
talk to me again, but the hell with that. They'll never be the same 
again." 

Well, that was the idea. 

Afterthoughts: But is it true? Will they really never be the same 
again? On the surface everything will appear to be unchanged. They 
will go back to their jobs, doing the same things, saying the same 
things. But it will be just a little harder for the salesmen of the Social 
Lie to sell them the old bill of goods. And when a crisis occurs in their 
lives, if the wife picks up and runs away with another man, or the 
husband gets tossed off the job for harboring dangerous thoughts, or 
when one of those black nerve crises hits them and they're fed up 
with the whole dumb-show or tired of the old rat race, a line of In 
quest will come back to them, perhaps, or some image from End of 
the Line or some other poem or poet my reading will have led them 
to by that time, and they'll be ready for a try at the first mile, at least, 
of the journey perilous, God help them! I don't wish it on my friends 
and it's too good for my enemies, but luckily the decision is not mine 
to make. It's more like a contagion; only those who are susceptible in 
the first place will catch it anyway, and I am only the carrier, and they 
will become carriers in their turn, and in this way the audience is 
transformed. 

But slowly. None of these people invited me to their homes for 
similar readings before their friends. Nobody had been asked to pay 
admission. The drinks were on the house. A few bought copies of 
Rainbow because I had some copies with me and was willing to auto- 



206 THE HOLY BABBAEIANS 

graph them. I doubt if one of them would have gone to a bookstore to 
buy it or mailed a check to the publisher or gone a few blocks out of 
his way to a public library to pick up a free copy to read. Why should 
they? Poetry, all art, is a labor of love and the person on the receiving 
end is like a passive female, not unwilling to be seduced if you catch 
her in the right mood, but expecting you to make the first move, and 
often the second and third, too. 

No, it is enough for the artist to say it, to do it, to live it. Contagion 
will take care of the rest These poetry readings are one way of spread 
ing the contagion. 



11 



Jazz, the Music of the Holy Barbarians 



JAZZ MUSICIANS THEMSELVES ABE OFTEN PTOZLED AND SOMETIMES IREI- 

tated by the response o the holy barbarians to their music. This is 
especially so among the jazz musicians who have made the university 
circuit and the musical supermarket scene of the jazz festivals. Those 
who have tasted commercial, financial success. They want to forget the 
profane beginnings of their art, for "profane" is by definition "outside 
the temple." The temple, to them, is Carnegie Hall, Brandeis Univer 
sity and a Victor Records' royalty check in four or five figures. They 
are trying hard to persuade themselves it is the temple of the Muse, 
not Mammon's, they are headed for. 

The holy barbarians, on their part, often fail to discriminate between 
the sacred ritual elements in jazz and the show that the "natives" 
sometimes put on for the tourists and the Yanqui dolar. The beats 
are so hungry that they wolf down everything in sight, or rather in 
hearing. The more knowledgeable among them, however, are aware 
that jazz is the Dyonysian, not the Apollonian, beat in music. There is 
a time and a place for both in the world and sometimes the world 
needs one more than it needs the other because there is an imbalance, 
a sickness of the human spirit for which the only therapy is a restora 
tion of the balance. The beat generation is seeking such a therapy in 
jazz. This is not the first time a generation of the American youth has 

207 



208 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

turned to jazz as a therapeutic. It happened in the twenties, too, and 
the squares were scared out of their wits. 

One cannot exaggerate the protest with which jazz was met 
when, in the 1920's, it had spread to Chicago and New York. Com 
posers, critics, ministers of the church, laymen, pundits and ig 
noramuses had their fling. The storm was historic. An entire era 
was called the Jazz Age. Not only the sins of its flappers and gin- 
toting lounge lizards came to be blamed on this ineffably nefarious 
music, but also nearly all the woes of the postwar world up to and 
including the 1929 crash in Wall Street. Reverberations of the 
storm penetrated even to New Orleans, where the Times-Picayune 
rose hastily to disavow any connection of jazz with its native city. 

Although many knew then that jazz had been played in, among 
other places, whorehouses and wine shops, and judged it accord 
ingly, none knew that it was a fine art transcending its surround 
ings. Nevertheless, many of the people knew that it was their 
music, a music created for them by men using lack of formal mus 
ical education as the freeing factor in hot and spontaneous crea 
tion. The men wanted, needed, to create it; their fellows wanted, 
needed to listen, to dance, to respond to, and be freed by it. 24 

No one among the youth of the twenties that I knew held it against 
jazz that it was played in the whorehouses of New Orleans. We listened 
to and danced to the jazz bands at the Dreamland, White City or the 
Pekin Cafe in Chicago and took what we could. Nor did we feel any 
need to apologize to anybody for the flappers or the gin-toting lounge 
lizards. Many of these flappers, that Rudi Blesh seems to be trying 
to disown, were pretty hip to what King Oliver and his New Orleans 
Rhythm Kings were putting down in those days. 

It was mostly gangsters and bootleggers and their molls who got to 
hear the best jazz of the period, along with a Negro audience and the 
bohemian underground among the writers. You were more likely to 
run into Kenneth Rexroth at a Chicago skiffle (rent party, shake and 
percolator were other names for it) than F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Carl 
Sandburg, for all his reported early savvy of jazz. At these rent parties 
we heard Chicago jazzmen like Jimmy and Alonzo Yancey, "Cripple" 
Clarence Lofton and Albert Ammons, and the barrel house and boogie- 
woogie of Pine Top Smith. 



JAZZ, THE MUSIC OF THE HOLY BARBARIANS 209 

Hello Central, give me Doctor Jazz. 
He's got what I need, 111 say he has. 
When the world goes wrong 

And I got those blues: 
He's the one that makes me 

Get out both my dancing shoes! 25 

And there were plenty of lounge lizards who dug Meade Lux Lewis' 
piano plenty before they slid under the table. Most of what is de 
scribed by the historians as the Jazz Age was a "blackface" imitation 
of jazz. It was not the jazz we knew, the jazz of Lillian Hardin's piano 
and Jimmy Noone's clarinet, or Johnny Dodds's, or the Creole Jazz 
Band's at Dreamland and the Pekin Cafe. 

It was only the wayward and irreverent of the twenties who dug 
the real jazz of the period or had any opportunity to hear it at all, for 
that matter, in places like Chicago's South Side Negro ghetto, or in 
dives like PurcelTs on San Francisco's Barbary Coast, where they 
could catch Oliver and his band, or across the bay at the Iroquois Cafe 
in Oakland. In Los Angeles it was Jelly Roll Morton at Leek's Lake 
Resort; and in New Orleans at Lala's it was a new and promising young 
jazzman, Louis Armstrong. 

The upper-class bohemians of the period that F. Scott Fitzgerald 
was writing about thought jazz was Paul Whiteman at New York's 
Palais Royal or any "Paul Whiteman Orchestra" (it was a chain store 
operation) on board some ocean liner. They listened to the first "race 
records," too, but only for their sexy content, without trying to learn 
something about the musical content of the blues. They dug it only 
because it was hot, low-down and dirty, and a public scandal. When 
the commercialized imitations of the blues came along, substituting 
"suggestive" lines for the earthy directness and unsentimentalized sex 
of the anonymous folk blues, it was all the same to them. They 
couldn't tell the difference. 

Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago seem to have been the focal 
points from which boogie-woogie spread out through the country, al 
though regional forms of it have been traced through the South from 
Arkansas and Tennessee to Texas and Louisiana. The bohemian Left of 
the thirties made much of Pine Top Smith and Meade Lux Lewis as 
folk artists, and during the United Front wartime forties Negro musi 
cians of any sort in the hot jazz style were much sought after in Holly- 



210 THE HOLY BABBAJRIANS 

wood for fund-raising parties in democratic and progressive circles. 
Leadbelly (Huddy Ledbetter) and Josh White were always head- 
liners at these affairs. And, of course, there were always the folk sing 
ers, Alan Lomax, Pete Seeger and others, the composer-singer Earl 
Robinson and a host of lesser-known artists. Hot piano or guitar in 
the blues changes were about the limit of any real understanding in 
Leftist circles as far as jazz went. These fitted their notions of a "col 
lective" nonindividualistic folk art which, according to the prevailing 
party line, rose up spontaneously from the masses and was therefore 
free from the taint of capitalist commercialism. Ritual, healing, or 
spiritual catharsis was no part of their esthetic. If the stuff was sexy, 
well, that was just part of the earthiness that made it folksy, like the 
Peter Bruegel prints ("Peasant" Bruegel) which they hung on their 
walls. 

What makes ritual efficacious as a personal or a group therapy is 
social consensus, the acceptance of certain symbols and their potency 
within the magic circle. All music is sacred and ritual in origin, but in 
European music these origins have long been "refined" out of it. In 
jazz they are still close to the surface. That anything can be orgiastic 
(in the Greek sense of orgia, secret rites practiced only by the initiated, 
as in the rites of Bacchus or the worship of Demeter at Eleusis ) and 
still be sacred in the best sense of the word is a concept that the offi 
cial culture cannot tolerate, especially in a predominantly Protestant 
society. Dance was always looked upon with suspicion by the priestly 
mind and finally banished from the churches. In Europe the drum, the 
basic dance instrument, has been used chiefly to "drum up" troops for 
military service and keep them marching hypnotically under orders. In 
Africa the drum has many and varied uses, including communication 
at a distance, but its use in the sacred dance (and the secular dance as 
well) has never been curtailed, except by European colonial authori 
ties. In the United States the European attitudes prevail. During the 
last century in the South drumming was forbidden by the slaveowners, 
but in the woods under cover of night the slaves would meet and beat 
their homemade drums under washtubs to muffle the sound, nocturnal 
gatherings that recall the witchcraft meetings in Europe. "Despite 
this," says Rudi Blesh, "the tradition of percussive polyrhythms has 
persisted in the hand-clapping and stomping of the spiritual-singing in 



JAZZ, THE MUSIC OF THE HOLY BAEBABIANS 211 

the churches, in the jazz band, and, in one form or another, in all 
Afro-American music." 26 

It is from its use with dance that music derives much of its kines 
thetic character, the feeling of muscle tension and the sense of move 
ment which is part of the esthetic pleasure in all musical experience, 
particularly where percussion lays down the beat, as in the rhythm 
section of the jazz band. The variety of rhythmical patterns that can 
trigger kinesthetic response in the listener is very great, the most 
obvious being those which produce a sound effect in nature itself, such 
as a dog's trot, a running horse, the ticking of a clock, the heartbeat, a 
person walking, ocean waves, thunder. Less obvious but none the less 
rhythmical are the seasons, the morning, noon and night tempos of 
everyday living, childhood, youth, maturity and aging, and the suc 
cessive steps of the sexual experience. 

In more abstract music sex can be as cool and complex as the meta 
physical orgasm or the hours-long mating of the hero gods and god 
desses in Wagner's operas. In jazz, where the very name of the music 
is still identified by millions as a synonym for the sexual act itself, the 
kinesthetic experience of the listener, to say nothing of the dancer, is 
unmistakably sexual. In the blues the lyrics often spell it out in words 
of one syllable. Some of the earlier private versions, reserved for the 
whorehouse, the saloon and, today, heard only in after-closing-hours 
jam sessions, sometimes spell it out in words of four letters, as for ex 
ample in such old-timers as "the dirty dozens." 

The sexual in music becomes the therapeutic when it has the effect 
of liberating the listener from his inhibitions, something that squares 
react to in jazz with fear and fascination. For squares are by definition 
angular and rigid in sex, awkward and guilt-laden. 

Their arms are knives, their fingers all nails. 
When they try to make love they hurt each other. 

They torture themselves with shame and pride, 
With time clocks and unattainable ambitions. 

They drag themselves over miles of broken glass 
And stone themselves with false confessions. 27 



212 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

When it becomes unbearable they run to the psychoanalyst, to 
whores, to the Hollywood swamis. Anything except the kinesthetic re 
lease of jazz music, because they fear the direct approach to their 
problem. They prefer that the cure, if any, should have a scientific, 
medical-sounding name, or be followed by the self-punishment of 
guilt feelings, or, as in the case of the swamis, come wrapped up in 
some phony mystical jargon that sounds, to them, like religion. Jazz 
is too pure for them to take straight. 

The sexual in music becomes sacred ritual when it raises sex to the 
level of the sacre, holy, which in turn means wholeness, integration. 
It is a sacrament when it is socially responsible, when it has the force 
of an oath between lovers. It becomes sacrilege when it is stolen out 
of its hierogamic context and used for profit, violence, rape. 

For the holy barbarians jazz music is both a therapeutic and a sacred 
ritual, in addition, of course, to its many secular uses. For them it 
makes a swinging scene out of the sexual act, before, during and after. 
That it is considered profane in contemporary Western society makes 
it no less sacred to them. It has its own temples, back-alley temples and 
hideaway shrines, not unlike the nocturnal woodland worship which 
has always marked the outlawed religions. Knowing the language of 
jazz, its musical language, and sharing it with others in a closed com 
pany of the initiated, is perfectly in keeping with its secret religious 
character. Add to this its special hipster jive and you have something 
very much like a mystique of jazz. 

To the beat generation it is also a music of protest. Being apolitical 
does not preclude protest. There are other solutions besides political 
solutions. Or, if not solutions, then at least some kind of relief. For 
some things, in the view of the disaffiliate, do not permit of any solu 
tion, at least not at the present time. It was the sex, not the protest, that 
the youth of the twenties looked for in jazz. The youth of the thirties 
looked for protest in the Negro jazzmen as a member of an oppressed 
and disfranchised minority, rather than in the music itself, except 
where it was most obvious, as in the work songs of the plantations and 
river docks and in ballads like Stagolee, Mr. Boll Weevil and John 
Henry. In the forties, anything in jazz, even if it was only a near 
cousin like The T. B. Blues or Careless Love, was hailed as united 
front and anti-Fascist by the swimming pool proletariat. To the present 
generation of nonconformist youth the simple existence of jazz itself is 



JAZZ, THE MUSIC OF THE HOLY BARBARIANS 213 

protest enough. They see it pitting its spontaneous, improvised, happy- 
sad, angry-loving, ecstatic on-the-spot creativity against the sterile 
antiseptic delivery room workmanship of the concert hall that the 
squares take for musical culture. And they whisper coolly, quietly 
but intensely -"Say it, Batch!" "Tell 'em, Gerry!" "Blow a great big 
hole in the walls they have thrown up to keep man from man." They 
know that what the Bird is putting down in those one-two punches on 
the horn is shock treatment with a love as fierce as anger and better 
than insulin or metrazol. They even welcomed Rock 'n Roll, for all its 
ballyhoo, as a fresh smell of young sexuality in the square's fetid and 
buttoned-up world. For a little while everything was barbarous again. 
They listen to Bela Bartok, too, especially to those compositions 
where he draws most on Hungarian dance patterns and achieves per 
cussive, dynamic effects which convey a strong kinesthetic impact. The 
more sophisticated among them dig his polytonal harmony, his dis 
sonances, just as they dig "the Schonberg bit" and flip over Stravinsky's 
Rite of Spring. They honor the old maestro for his early interest in jazz 
despite the fact that he probably mistook corny vaudeville pit bands 
for the real thing. The same sophisticates also listen to Paul Hindemith 
and Darius Milhaud because they know that some of the modern cool 
jazz musicians studied with them, but they only smile at Milhaud's 
own "jazz ballets" just as they smile at Stravinsky's 1918 Ragtime 
movement in Histoire du soldat. Morton Gould's Chorale and Fugue 
in Jazz and the John Alden Carpenter ballets Skyscrapers and Krazy 
Kat are given more respectful attention, as are Krenek's jazz opera 
Jonny spielt auf and Aaron Copland's Concerto for Piano and Orches 
tra and Music for the Theatre, but what really sends them is something 
like Gruenberg's Daniel Jazz or Shostakovich's Suite for Jazz Orches 
tra. They dug Aram Khachaturian's "sword dance" till the disk jockeys 
played it to death, hearing in it, probably, more that was phallic rather 
than military, but they leave his concertos to the longhairs. The Indian 
ragas interest and excite them more, because they are improvised, like 
most jazz, on set themes. There is some talk in the pads about Cage, 
Varese and Piston, but not much listening. Not enough has been re 
corded yet to listen to. George Gershwin is strictly Tin Pan Alley to 
them, and that goes for Porgy and Bess as well as Rhapsody in Blue, 
burnt cork minstrel stuff. Their reaction to Leonard Bernstein is con 
fused, positive and negative by turns. After a few turns of West Side 



214 THE HOLY BAJRBABIANS 

Story on the phonograph they may yank it off and put on Marc Blitz- 
stein's and Kurt WeilTs Bert Brecht record The Three Penny Opera 
instead, and yank that off after the overture, put on Louis Armstrong's 
jazz version o Mack the Knife and set the repeat shift on the record 
changer. I heard as many as ten successive playings o it in some 
pads when it first came out. This, they insisted, was the way Brecht 
himself would have liked to hear it sung. I doubt that, but the beat 
have a way of making their own reality by repeating things often 
enough among themselves. 

Opera the beat will not be found dead with, not even Menottf s or 
with scores by Christopher Fry or Wynstan Hugh Auden. Opera is for 
squares. A record like Carl Orffs Carmina Burana will be passed 
around in beatville for a while, but only because its lyrics ( cleaned up 
a bit) are from poems by those on-the-road twelfth-century beatniks, 
the goliards, whose story is familiar to them from the paperback edi 
tion of Helen Waddell's The Wandering, Scholars. 28 

Jazz, however, remains the staple musical diet. Tastes tend to be 
regional, sometimes aggressively regional, among the beat as among 
other jazz buffs. And even further divided, by groups and circles. A 
full set of the original Library of Congress Jelly Roll Morton will win 
you entry into one pad and do less than nothing for you in another. 
Opinions differ on what is jazz hot and jazz cool, what is in the main 
stream of jazz and what is off course, what is a forward, far-out step 
and what is imitative of the past or downright reactionary and, finally, 
what is holy. 

Is the stuff Mahalia Jackson sings holy? Careless Love was what 
Mahalia sang but that was before she was saved. "When I was a little 
girl ... all you could hear was Bessie (Smith). The houses were thin; 
the phonographs were loud. You could hear her for blocks. ... I'd play 
that record over and over again, and Bessie's voice would come out so 
full and round. And I'd make my mouth do the same things. And be 
fore you know, all the people would stand outside the door and listen. 
I didn't know what it was at the time. All I know is it would grip me. 
It would give me that same feeling as when I'd hear the men singing 
outside as they worked, laying the ties on the railroad." Then she 
heard somebody called Blind Frank singing the spirituals. "He used to 
come around the churches in New Orleans and play his guitar. Places 
where the Holiness folks gathered, the Sanctified people. They sang the 



JAZZ, THE MUSIC OF THE HOLY BAJRBABIANS 215 

way I like it, with free expression. That's where I think jazz caught its 
beat. From the Holiness people. Long before Buddy Bolden and Bunk 
Johnson, they were clapping their hands and beating their tambourines 
and blowing their horns." Mahalia suffered a critical illness in Chicago 
and attributes her recovery to God's amazing grace, and what she 
learned from Bessie Smith and Careless Love she carried over into 
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and What a Friend I Have in Jesus. Same 
beat, she will tell you. "You know, the Fisk University choir they made 
lots of those songs popular. They took out the beat that the Holiness 
people gave them and cultivated it. They concertized them, prettied 
them up. Not much feeling, but, oh, it sounded so sweet!" 29 No one 
puts Mahalia down in beat circles but you won't hear her records in 
beat pads for all her holiness. They'd rather get it straight from Bessie 
Smith and Ma Rainey. As far as they can see, there isn't any reason why 
Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey couldn't have gone straight into any 
church without being "saved." They had God's amazing grace, "from 
in front." That is what Stan Winkler and his friends would liave told 
you if you had questioned the holiness of their Crucifixion Christmas 
tree with its all-cultures ornaments and their congas and bongos and 
Art Blakey's African drum rhythms and the Bird's alto horn and Miles 
Davis' trumpet and Louie's and Dizzy's and Count Basie on the key 
board and bass man Mingus and tenor man Hawkins and many 
among the holy barbarians would add: 

Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop apocalypse! 
Holy the jazzbands marijuana hipsters peace and 
junk and drums! 30 



12 



Poetry and Jazz: 

Love Match or Shotgun Wedding? 



FROM THE FIRST, POETRY AND JAZZ HAS HAD SOME OF THE ASPECTS OF A 

swinging love affair and a grim-lipped shotgun wedding. It is hard to 
say which is the bride and which is the groom. Since the initial pro 
posalsome would call it a proposition came from the poets, I sup 
pose it would be poetry that was the groom. And, as in many shotgun 
weddings, the bride was willing enough but the trouble came from the 
in-laws, on both sides. That is to say, from the critics, the school 
teachers and the editors. 

No new art form in the last fifty years has been subjected to so much 
journalistic distortion as poetry and jazz by its friends as well as its 
enemies. As far as the newspapers are concerned, anything avant- 
garde in the arts is news when it can be presented as a freak or a fad. 
Poetry and jazz was a two-headed calf. Better yet, it was a two-headed 
calf of which one of the heads was an animal of some other species, 
which made the whole thing a carnival side show attraction. A mon 
strous miscegenation. 

One reason why it looked, in its beginnings, like a miscegenation is 
that it was born in a misconception. Ralph J. Gleason, the jazz critic, 
writing about the San Francisco phase of it in Downbeat magazine 
(May 2, 1957), quoted Kenneth Rexroth as authority for the idea that 
poetry and jazz was an attempt to supply jazz music with new and 
better lyrics. 

216 



POETRY AND JAZZ: LOVE MATCH OR SHOTGUN WEDDING? 217 

"Jazz tunes, even in their best form, always have been hung up with 
weak lyrics, according to poet Kenneth Rexroth. And he extends this, 
saying weak lyrics are found even in the best popular songs, including 
those of such writers as Cole Porter." It is not surprising, then, that 
what Gleason heard in the first poetry and jazz at The Cellar was "a 
fascinating experiment," but, while "extremely successful commer 
cially . . . not completely so artistically." 

For the basic problem is essentially that of the lyricist. The 
words must fit the music and the rhythm or else the music is only 
an accompaniment in the background in which the poet's voice, 
far from being an instrument in the band, is a spotlight or leading 
actor behind which the music goes its own way, even though 
related emotionally to the poetry. 

The problem is that of fitting a preconceived poem to music that 
is improvised. Until either the musicians learn to think in poef s 
structures of thought and frames of rhythms or poets write poetry 
in the format of songs to be recited against 4/4 time at a steady 
rhythm there will be difficulties. 

Six months later, after hearing more poetry and jazz with Kenneth 
Rexroth and Lawrence Ferlinghettl at The Cellar, and Kenneth Patch- 
en with the Chamber Jazz Sextet at the Black Hawk, Gleason reported 
in the same magazine (November 14, 1957) that it was still "a sort of 
freak attraction in San Francisco/* 

When this whole jazz and poetry hassel began last spring, Ken 
neth Rexroth said he was just trying to start a fad, maliciously, and 
foresaw the possibility that it might catch on like swallowing 
goldfish and become the rage. 

There seems a fair danger that he was right. 

At this point I fairly expect to see a press release announcing 
that Abe Saperstein has signed T. S. Eliot for a coast-to-coast tour 
with the Harlem Globe Trotters and that the proceeds of the next 
World Series will go toward a fund to free Ezra Pound. . . . 

The Black Hawk is doing some business but it is all predicated 
on a dishonest premise, to my way of thinking. Mostly the poets 
are slumming. Jazz already has an audience and they don't. 
They're cashing in on the jazz audience but they won't learn any 
thing from jazz or listen to it or try to allow the natural jazz 



218 THE HOLY BABBAKIANS 

rhythms they have to come out Instead they are blithely wailing 
away with the same sort of thing that lost them their audience in 
the first place. . . . Not until a poet comes along who learns what 
jazz is all about and then writes poetry will there be any merger. 
What we have now is a freak, like a two-headed calf. That's all. 

In other words, it was not going to be successful until poets wrote 
lyrics for jazz. Note, also, that Gleason was giving jazz top billing - 
jazz and poetry, not poetry and jazz. And accusing the poets of steal 
ing the spotlight and exploiting the jazz audience, of slumming for 
kicks and "cashing in" on jazz. The poets Gleason was hearing in San 
Francisco, by the way, were working for free or at most for five dollars 
or so a night, while the musicians were getting union scale. So much 
for "cashing in." This was to become, as time went on, the party line 
of the commercial jazz magazines which rely for their existence not so 
much on their circulation as on the advertising of instrument manufac 
turers, phonograph and hi-fi manufacturers and the mass consumption 
record companies to whom jazz is just another department of the 
music business. When they referred to it at all they called it "jazz- 
poetry," with or without the hyphen, and in reviewing the records 
they reserved their praise for those in which the poetry was most like 
blues lyrics and had the same themes, or was so trivial and brief as not 
to "interfere" with the music at all. In short, it was a hatchet job the re 
viewers were doing on this new art form. 

My own experience with poetry and jazz disproves many of these 
allegations. I was approached by Jack Hampton, a theatrical booking 
agent with a half-interest in the Los Angeles Jazz Concert Hall, to put 
on a series of poetry and jazz concerts for him at the hall. 

Jack Hampton, as I learned on meeting him, is a jazz guitarist and 
trombonist of the swing era of the thirties whom changing fashions in 
jazz had passed by, forcing him, ironically, into booking and promoting 
the new style "baroque Bach" he disapproves of. The "new sound" of 
West Coast jazz "is actually pretty much of a stereotype," he told me. 

"They phrase and they type up, and they've forgotten the basis of 
jazz which is the beat. When you lose the beat in jazz you're finished, 
because then it's just like taking sex out of sexual intercourse. Let's 
face it, that's what they lost. They tried to abstract something out of 
it They abstracted an abstraction and out of that they abstracted 



POETRY AND JAZZ: LOVE MATCH OR SHOTGUN WEDDING? 219 

another abstraction, to wit: the way the man plays. He improvises on 
the original theme and then improvises on what he's improvised and 
then he improvises on a third improvisation and he ends up with a 
heap of dung. He's pounding the thing like that and thinks he's getting 
a new sound. So the whole thing completely loses all identification 
with jazz. I'm not talking because I'm against these guys, but that way 
a whole culture can become a madhouse instead of helping the individ 
ual within it, and I claim that this country is becoming a madhouse. 
Then up in Berkeley there's a school that believes there's only one guy 
that ever existed and that's a guy by the name of Bach, so these guys 
with the ivy league suits, who never played with a jazz band, who 
never played the one-nighters and who never had fist fights on the 
street about who lost the beat, and got thrown in jail like I did in 
Omaha, guys who never played for three bucks a night and jumped 
seven hundred miles to make it, these guys sit together in these clois 
tered little goddamn houses they live in on those campuses where it's 
nice and cool, with their blondes, and they took the seventeenth and 
eighteenth century music and they put to it that so-called sound and 
that became jazz. 

"The result of all this is that jazz is no longer a dance art. The Con 
sumers Research says that these kids listen six hours a week to jazz 
records and they spend fifty per cent of their income on albums. But 
they can't dance to this stuff. Can anybody dance to our friend Shelly 
Manne? It's only for listening. So I knew the time was ripe, so there 
could be a concert hall, just for listening. And it proved itself. Except 
that we didn't get to the audience." 

What Hampton hoped for from poetry and jazz was that it might 
get to a fresh audience and help him pull his concert hall out of the 
red. He felt that the thing was salable and "when you get to art and 
culture, boy, you can sell yourself a hell of a deal." He himself had 
written poems, back in the thirties, that Langston Hughes once called 
"the best blues poems ever written by a white man." He and his part 
ner, the famous jazz composer and musician Benny Carter, had sunk 
thousands of dollars into the hall and there would be little cash for 
production. Would the poets work for free? I told him I had no inten 
tion of asking poets to work at all in these first concerts, but if they did 
they would have to be paid at least the same basic union scale as 
musicians. I had experimented for more than a year on poets reading 



220 THE HOLY BABBAMANS 

their work with music and found that they lacked not only the musical 
knowledge to know when to come in with their "solos" but even the 
rudiments of effective public speech. The best of them possessed either 
a monotonous deathbed baritone style or the painful "poeticism" of a 
lyric tenor. Radio actors, on the other hand, possessed technique but 
lacked warmth and understanding, while stage actors read poetry like 
dramatic dialogue, either in the realistic Stanislavski style or hammed- 
up Shakespeare. I was to have at the most a month or so to assemble 
and train a jazz band in this new art form and find a few voices that 
could be coached into something like the kind of vocal rendition I 
had in mind. 

As it turned out, before Hampton was able to line up the musicians 
there was no time for more than a brief conversation with the leader 
of the band. As for tibe voices, I auditioned dozens of voices speech 
majors from UCLA, actors from the little theaters, professionals of 
experience and reputation in the movies and on the stage, radio voices, 
television actors, disk jockeys. I ended up with a movie actor who 
reneged at the last minute and had to be replaced with a little theater 
actor a disk jockey and three poets, Stuart Perkoff and Saul White of 
Venice West and Kenneth Rexroth, whom I brought down from San 
Francisco for the occasion. 

We had the most impressive array of first-rate jazz talent anyone 
could ask for a poetry and jazz concert: Shorty Rogers and his Giants, 
including such well-known artists as Bill Holman, tenor sax; Ralph 
Pena, bass; Marty Paich, piano; and Larry Bunker, drums; and an 
additional band, billed as a special poetry and jazz group, consisting 
of such jazz greats as Fred Katz, cello; Bud Shank, alto and flute; 
Barney Kessel, guitar; Buddy Collette, clarinet and flute; and Red 
Mitchell, bass. But getting jazz musicians to rehearse at all is a thank 
less and all but impossible task. Two rehearsals were scheduled. To 
only one did enough of them show up to make a rehearsal possible, 
and we had only a few hours to put the thing together. No wonder it 
took three nights and six performances before the musicians began to 
pay any attention at all to the words and attempt any kind of co 
operation between the music and the poetry. But the audiences 
capacity crowds applauded wildly and enthusiasm ran high. I was 
gratified with the turnout but my satisfaction with the audience re 
sponse was tempered by the realization that nobody had anything of 



POETRY AND JAZZ : LOVE MATCH OR SHOTGUN WEDDING? 221 

the kind to compare it with and therefore no critical standards. 

These audiences were not just jazz audiences, as Gleason said they 
were. They sensed that something important was happening, some 
thing they wanted to see happen because it filled a need they felt, 
though few among them had any idea what that need really was or 
what they should be listening for and expecting to hear. 

They were coming to hear poetry, the sound of poetry, that lost 
dimension of the poetic art which went out of poetry with the inven 
tion of printing. 

Poetry and the Vocal Traditions 

Before the invention of printing, poetry was still largely a vocal art. 
Ever since its beginnings in the ritual drama when the poet was proph 
et, seer, shaman, priest, judge, bard, singly or in varying combinations, 
poetry was something to be spoken, chanted or sung with music and, 
often as not, with dance. It was the "spell," a form of words which per 
formed one of the vital functions of ritual. When the arts of ritual 
drama were secularized and individualized, poetry still retained its 
oral character. 

What we are witnessing today in public poetry readings and in 
poetry and jazz is a revival of certain lost elements of oral culture, 
sparked by the electronic revolution in communications, by the pho 
nograph, radio, tape recorder, and the audio-visual media of motion 
pictures and television. Poets have long felt that writing poetry merely 
for the printing press was somehow insufficient, that it left the act of 
communication incomplete. In 1941, Harry Thornton Moore, writing 
in New Directions Annual, expressed the view that "the sound of 
poetry is part of its meaning." Many poets had forgotten that poetry 
has a sound. When the Library of Congress began its recorded poetry 
series, many poets, confronted suddenly with the request that they 
read their work aloud, found themselves tongue-tied and self-conscious 
to the point of physical distress. 

What had lost the poets their audience was not, as Gleason seems to 
think, an unwillingness or inability to write the sort of jingles that can 
be ticked off, syllable by syllable, to the four-four beat of jazz the 
only kind of jazz, and the only kind of poetry, too, perhaps, that Glea 
son has any ear for. What lost them their audience was, in the first 



222 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

place, the decline of oral culture with the advent of the printing press 
and, as a result, the decline of the poet's skills with voice and music. 
In the English language this decline was aggravated by the fact that 
English as a literary language was born at almost the same moment as 
the printing press. The earlier languages of Britain perished after the 
Norman Conquest, and their oral literature failed to become incor 
porated into the main stream of English literature. This was not the 
case in France, Germany or Italy, where the oral elements of poetry 
made an orderly transition from the voice to the printed page. In other 
oral cultures, for example Wales and Ireland where the printing press 
was later in making its effect felt on poetry, the vocal elements never 
completely died out. Dylan Thomas, of course, is the outstanding 
example of a poet who, although he was not writing in the traditional 
language of his country, was still able to carry over something of the 
oral tradition into his poetry. Before the present revival in the United 
States, there were two previous and abortive attempts to restore 
poetry to the oral tradition. The key figures in these two attempts were 
Walt Whitman and Vachel Lindsay, and Lindsay was one of the first 
poets whose voice was recorded on records. Dylan Thomas' records 
have sold by the tens of thousands, far outselling most jazz records 
this by way of a reminder to Gleason, who is worried about the poets 
of today trying to cash in on the jazz audience. 

What Rexroth and Ferlinghetti were seeking, and the poets of 
Venice West as well, was a restoration of poetry to its ancient, tradi 
tional role as a socially functional art allied with music in a single, re 
integrated art form. We turned to jazz music because jazz is the mu 
sical language of America in our time. Modern poetry was born at the 
same time as modern jazz was born and both have had a similar his 
tory. Both have had the same friends and the same enemies. Both 
aimed at freeing their art from the strait jacket of the printing press: 
in the case of poetry, from the printed page, in the case of jazz, from 
the printed score. They belong together. 

The experiments that had been going on in Venice West, with able 
jazz musicians like Shelly Manne, Jimmie Giuffre and Buddy Collette, 
were serving to reveal the artistic problems involved in reintegrating 
poetry and music. We listened to earlier attempts in the same direction 
by Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schonberg. In the preface to his 



POETRY AND JAZZ: LOVE MATCH OR SHOTGUN WEDDING? 223 

Pierrot Lunaire, where he used the voice within something like the 
speaking range, Schonberg had written: 

The melody indicated for the speaking voice by notes (apart 
from a few specially indicated exceptions) is not meant to be 
sung. The reciter has the task of transforming the melody, always 
with due regard to the prescribed intervals, into a speaking 
melody. That is accomplished in the following way: 

1. The rhythm must be kept absolutely strict, as if the reciter 
were singing; that is to say, with no more freedom than he would 
allow himself if he were singing the melody. 

2. To emphasize fully the contrast between the sung note and 
the spoken note, whereas the sung note preserves the pitch, the 
spoken notes gives it at first, but abandons it either by rising or by 
falling immediately after. The reciter must take the greatest care 
not to fall into a sing-song form of speaking voice; such is ab 
solutely not intended. On the contrary, the difference between or 
dinary speech and a manner of speech that may be embodied in 
musical form, is to be clearly maintained. But, again, it must not 
be reminiscent of song. 31 

I pondered what had gone wrong with this early attempt of modern 
music to integrate poetry with an orchestra and decided that the dif 
ficulty stemmed from the composer's effort to retain a harmonic re 
lationship between the pitch of the voice and the music and to keep 
the rhythm "absolutely strict." This caused it to f aU between two stools, 
with the result that both music and speech were blurred. Its success 
with the critics of the time I could only attribute to the fact that, for 
one thing, it was a novel and daring thing to do, and for another, there 
were no longer any standards of comparison for spoken poetry used in 
connection with music. What Schonberg had attempted to da was, in 
fact, pretty much the same sort of thing Ralph Gleason was asking the 
poets do with jazz music. Our own experiments were teaching us that 
this was a blind alley. It was most certainly not the sort of procedure 
that the poets of the past had followed with poetry and music. Nor 
what had been done in the early talking blues. 

There was no one method, I found, that solved all the problems of 
integrating poetry and jazz into an art form. When I came to produc 
ing my own recording, Jazz Canto: Volume I, 32 I introduced into it 



224 THE HOLY BARBAKIANS 

several different approaches to the problem, each with its own merits 
and demerits. 

For example, the poetry of Walt Whitman on this recording has 
music written without key and "cued** to the voice only at focal points 
where the mood or meaning of the poem changes. It is not music under 
the voice, or behind it, or to accompany the voice, or to illustrate the 
poem. It is the poem itself, freshly written by the composer in a mu 
sical idiom. It runs parallel to the poem and is equal to it in the atten 
tion it demands of the listener. Since it is, in a sense, a "translation" of 
the poem into music, the instruments Fred Katz, the composer, uses 
are in each passage those which are naturally associated with the sound 
meaning that long-forgotten dimension of poetry the acoustical 
image evoked by the words themselves. Trumpets and percussion, for 
instance, to go with the prophetic passages of the poem, clarinets for 
the meditative passages, and guitar in the "pleading" passages. 

Nevertheless I regard it as only a beginning. Poetry and jazz or 
Jazz Canto, as I prefer to call it will not be a viable art form until 
it solves its problems and becomes a part of the standard repertoire of 
public performance. Nor should it be limited to jazz music. In Jazz 
Canto several types of music are employed besides jazz. Whatever 
music is suitable to the poem is the right music. When poets learn 
more about music and musicians learn more about poetry it will be 
easier to make progress with this new idiom. To this end I have been 
laying the foundations for a Jazz Canto Workshop where poets will be 
required to learn how to read music, play at least one instrument, and 
take voice lessons in order to learn how to use the voice box for the 
public rendition of their poetry. 

The jazz musicians, on their part, will have to learn something about 
poetry. The poets among the holy barbarians know much more about 
jazz than the jazzmen know about poetry. In the Jazz Canto Workshop 
the jazzmen will have an opportunity to work with poets and learn 
something about the art and craft of poetry. Even the best-educated 
jazzmen I know read so little modern poetry that every line and every 
image has to be explained to them before they can improvise or write 
music for it. 

Only a Jazz Workshop, with serious and dedicated young men and 
women working together, can solve the many problems that this new 



POETRY AND JAZZ: LOVE MATCH OR SHOTGUN WEDDING? 225 

art form presents. Notwithstanding all these pitfalls and drawbacks, 
Jazz Canto will thrive and flourish, I think, because it is part of the 
growing revival of the oral tradition and, in poetry, a part of the 
bardic tradition. 



The Barbarian is at the Gates: 
The Literature, Art and Music of the 
Beat Generation 



WHAT is TAKING PLACE IN THE LITERATUBE OF THE HOLY BABBABIANS 
is something more profound than the emergence of a new school. It 
is a change in the literary use of language itself. 

What is better than reading Vergil or memorizing Goethe 
(Aalles Vergangliche 1st nur ein Gleichnis, etc.)? Why, eating out 
doors under an awning for eight francs at Issy-les-Moulineaux. 
Pourtant je suis a Sevres. No matter. I have been thinking lately 
of writing a Journal d'un Fou which I imagine to have found at 
Issy-les-Moulineaux. And since that fou is largely myself I am not 
eating at Sevres, but at Issy-les-Moulineaux. And what does the 
fou say when the waitress comes with the big canette of beer? 
Dont worry about errors when youre writing. The biographers 
will explain all errors. I am thinking of my friend Carl who has 
spent the last four days getting started on a description of the 
woman he's writing about. "I cant do it! I cant do it!" he says. 
Very well, says the fou, let me do it for you. Begin! That's the 
principal thing. Supposing her nose is not aquiline? Supposing it's 
a celestial nose? What difference? When a portrait commences 
badly it's because you're not describing the woman you have in 
mind; you are thinking more about those who are going to look at 

226 



THE BABBABIAN IS AT THE GATES 227 

the portrait than about the woman who is sitting for you. Take 
Van Norden he's another case. He has been trying for two 
months to get started with his novel. Each time I meet him he has 
a new opening for his book. It never gets beyond the opening. 
Yesterday he said: "You see what my problem's like. It isn't just a 
question of how to begin: the first line decides the cast of the 
whole book. Now here's a start I made the other day: Dante wrote 
a poem about a place called H . H-dash, because I don't want 
any trouble with censors," 

Think of a book opening with H-dash! A little private hell which 
mustn't offend the censors! I notice that when Whitman starts a 
poem he writes: "I, Walt, in my 37th year and in perfect health! 
... I am afoot with my vision ... I dote on myself . . . Walt Whit 
man, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son, turbulent, fleshy, sensual, 
eating, drinking and breeding . . . Unscrew the locks from the 
doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs . . . Here or 
henceforward it is all the same to me ... I exist as I am, that is 
enough ..." 

With Walt it is always Saturday afternoon . . , 33 

*** Note in how many particulars Henry Miller writing in the mid- 
thirties, and Whitman whom he cites, anticipated the beat generation: 
the insistence on the spontaneous, tihe improvised, the importance of 
living in the present moment, the sensuality, naturalness, contempt for 
censorship, the sense of holiness, the openness even to leaving doors 
unlocked, a common practice among the beat. What is more pertinent 
at this point, however, is Henry Miller's use of language. And his ap 
proach to the problem of the written word. It is not an approach to 
the written word at all, in fact It is the spoken word committed to 
writing. It is oral in structure. 

"Oral languages>" says Edmund Carpenter, "tended to be polysyn- 
thetic, composed of great tight conglomerates, like twisted knots, 
within which images were juxtaposed, inseparably fused; written 
communications consisted of little words chronologically ordered. Sub 
ject became distinct from verb, adjective from noun, separating actor 
from action, essence from form. Where preliterate man imposed form 
diffidently, temporarily for such transitory forms lived but temporari 
ly on the tip of his tongue, m the Kving situation the printed word 



228 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

was inflexible^ permanent, in touch with eternity: it embalmed truth 
for posterity. 

"This embalming process froze language, eliminated the art of am 
biguity, made puns 'the lowest form of wit/ destroyed word linkages. 
The word became a static symbol, applicable to and separate from 
that which it symbolized. It now belonged to the objective world; it 
could be seen. . . . Writing didn't record oral language; it was a new 
language, which the spoken word came to imitate. . . . Gutenberg 
finished the process." 34 

The written word, written in speech forms imitative of the written 
word, reached its reductio ad absurdum in the Victorian novels. When 
Thackeray satirized writers like Disraeli and Bulwer-Lytton he was 
satirizing not only the genteelism of the middle class but the bookish- 
ness of their Geneva code language, a style that by the 1890's had 
begun to burlesque itself, unconsciously. Human speech is oral and 
nonlinear as Carpenter and his associate Marshall McLuhan have dem 
onstrated in their experiments with communications media at the 
University of Toronto. When it is set down in writing it is merely be 
ing recorded for playback. Playback may be by eye and, where the 
reader is capable of it, by the "audio-imagination," as Eliot calls it, 
or "the inner ear," Marianne Moore's name for it, but it does not come 
fully alive again until it is played back by the human voice box. A 
poem can be mastered, that is, it can be understood on every level of 
meaning; it can be "explicated" in the manner of the New Criticism, 
all its allusions traced to their sources and identified, its metrics 
scanned, its grammar and syntax unscrambled, all of its ambiguities 
ferreted out and classified according to William Empson, and the act 
of communication will still be incomplete unless the sound is played 
back to the listening ear. The inner ear is not enough, no matter how 
much audio-imagination the poet has or the listener possesses. The 
printed poem is not the poem. It is only the "score" of the poem, just 
as in music the score is not the music. It has to be played back. 

If it is written in the Geneva code it will sound stilted when it is 
read aloud, no matter how well it "reads" on the printed page. It will 
sound like the printed page would sound if it could speak: clipped, 
precise, evenly spaced, no word lighter or darker than any other word, 
in short, a good job of printing. If it is written as oral language it will 
play back naturally and convincingly. The same thing is true of prose. 



THE BARBABIAN IS AT THE GATES 229 

Try reading the following passage from Jack Kerouac's The Subter 
raneans silently, then read it aloud and the difference becomes imme 
diately apparent. 

It's too much. Beginning, as I say with the pushcart incident 
the night we drank red wine at Dante's and were in a drinking 
mood now both of us so disgusted Yuri came with us, Ross 
Wallenstein was in there and maybe to show off to Mardou Yuri 
acted like a kid all night and kept hitting Wallenstein on the back 
of his head with little finger taps like goofing in a bar but Wallen 
stein (who's always being beaten up by hoodlums because of this) 
turned around a stiff death's-head gaze with big eyes glaring be 
hind glasses, his Christiike blue unshaven cheeks, staring rigidly as 
tho the stare itself will floor Yuri, not speaking for a long time, 
finally saying, "Man, don't bug me," and turning back to his con 
versation with friends and Yuri does it again and Ross turns again 
the same pitiless awful subterranean sort of non-violent Indian 
Mahatma Ghandi defense of some kind (which I'd suspected that 
first time he talked to me saying, "Are you a fag you talk like a 
fag," a remark coming from him so absurd because so inflammable 
and me 170 pounds to his 130 or 120 for God's sake 35 

J. D. Salinger had already broken that literary ground, of course, in 
the middle forties: 

I was surrounded by jerks. I'm not kidding. At this other tiny 
table, right to my left, practically on top of me, there was this 
funny-looking guy and this funny-looking girl. They were around 
my age, or maybe just a little older. It was funny. You could see 
they were being careful as hell not to drink up the minimum too 
fast. I listened to their conversation for a while, because I didn't 
have anything else to do. He was telling her about some pro foot 
ball game he'd seen that afternoon. He gave her every single god 
dam play in the whole game I'm not kidding. He was the most 
boring guy I ever listened to. And you could tell his date wasn't 
even interested in the goddam game, but she was even funnier- 
looking than he was, so I guess she had to listen. Real ugly girls 
have it tough. I feel so sorry for them sometimes. Sometimes I 
can't even look at them, especially if they're with some dopey guy 
that's telling them all about a goddam football game. On my right, 



230 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

the conversation was even worse, though. On my right there was 
this very Joe Yale-looking guy, in a gray flannel suit and one of 
those flitty-looking Tattersall vests. All those Ivy League bastards 
look alike. My father wants me to go to Yale, or maybe Princeton, 
but I swear, I wouldn't go to one of those Ivy League colleges if 
I was dying, for God's sake . . , 36 

Catcher in the Rye, the book from which this excerpt is taken, is to 
be found everywhere on the bookshelves of the beat. Reading aloud, 
both poetry and prose, is a common practice in the pads. It is not 
difficult for the beat generation youth to identify itself with the book's 
hero, Holden Caulfield. He not only sounds right to them but the 
things he says are often the things they say: 

If he'd had to shoot anybody, he wouldn't've known which 
direction to shoot in. He said the Army was practically as full of 
bastards as the Nazis were. 

I swear if there's another war, they better stick me in front of a 
firing squad. I wouldn't object. 

The people who applauded the show-offy, tricky stuff of the 
night club entertainers were the same morons that laugh like 
hyenas in the movies at staff that isn't funny. 

George Mandel is another writer who possesses an oral style and is 
popular in beat generation circles for what he says as well as for the 
way he says it. Here are some examples from his book Flee the Angry 
Strangers: 

Those culture perverts from uptown. Ant/one from uptown. And 
downtown. Everywhere I go. I tell you our society is at the bottom 
of its spiral. 

The whole commercial scene is animal against animal . , . 
everybody's mouth going with words like priests and kings and 
congressmen with words and no understanding . . . You can keep 
reality. Work is for slaves; I'm free. 

The so-called spiritual leaders who are all spirit and no brains, 
all sky and no earth ... the jerks with the electric word of official 
dom who do nothing but separate people. 

A whole nation of people suspending consciousness in whatever 
way they could: in churches and movie houses, before television 



THE BABBARIAN IS AT THE GATES 231 

sets, in barrooms and in books . . . The whole world (seeking) 
hard for its narcosis . . . Dope fiends and philosophers, prostitutes 
and poets, artists and hoods, darlings, dreamers, derelicts and 
every American variety of displaced persons . . . Whether praying 
step by step up tottering towers toward some illusion of heaven, 
or playing notch by notch down any available avenue of escape, 
from a stupid movie to a charge of heroin the whole world is 
hooked. 37 

One thing is already evident, that if the holy barbarians have their 
way with the national culture the new American literary tradition, now 
in the making, is not going to be in the England-via-New England 
line of descent. The schools and the reputation-making organs are still 
in the hands of teachers, critics and editors in the England-via-New 
England tradition, but defections from their own ranks have become 
increasingly common in the last few years and newcomers into the 
schools, magazines and publishing houses are changing the picture 
continually. Where print is still closed to them they either start pub 
lishing ventures of their own or take to the oral medium of records. For 
it is really the oral elements from foreign cultures in which those 
elements have never completely died out that are being transfused by 
the holy barbarians into the blood stream of American culture. 

The best way to approach the literature of the beat generation is 
through its antecedents. If you ask the poets they will name Whitman, 
Mallarme, Poe, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Yeats, Eliot, Pound; 
there will be talk in some quarters of looking into Swinburne again 
(didn't he introduce Baudelaire to the English-reading world?); Shelley 
will be quoted, Marlowe rather than Shakespeare (though I have heard 
The Phoenix and the Turtle, attributed to the Bard, praised as "a far- 
out swinging poem"); Blake's philosophical poems are being eyed 
speculatively again as they were in the booming twenties when there 
was something like a Blake boom, even though it was never listed on 
the big board. These new poets will go on to name Robinson Jeffers, 
Hart Crane, William Carlos Williams, Kenneth Rexroth, Kenneth 
Patchen, Dylan Thomas, Edward Dahlberg, E. E. Cummings, Kenneth 
Fearing and Louis Zukofsky and, judging from the letters I receive 
and from the behavior of some of my youngest visitors, I, too, am some 
times included as among their literary "ancestors." This is a wide range 



232 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

of taste, but i you look closely at the list you may notice that nearly 
all of them have one thing in common: they are not patricians of belle- 
lettres in the royal roster of the Academy. If they have "made if with 
English Lit at all and some of them have, if they've been dead long 
enough (literally or literarily) they made it the hard way, the long 
way round. 

Most of the same people will be named by the prose writers of the 
beat generation, too. The line between poetry and prose is very thinly 
drawn in these circles. Many insist there is no line at all. Asked to name 
their prose ancestors, however, they will usually come up with James 
Joyce, Henry Miller, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway (his 
early short stories in particular), Sherwood Anderson, Louis-Ferdinand 
Celine, William Faulkner, Andr6 Gide, Franz Kafka, D. H. Lawrence 
(his poetry as well as his prose), Thomas Wolfe; and some of the older, 
more political-minded among the prose writers of the beat generation 
would add Theodore Dreiser and John Dos Passes to this list. All of 
them have heard of B. Traven but, except for The Death Ship, his 
work is not widely read in beat circles any more. 

Admittedly, neither list is complete, but it is representative, I think. 
Conspicuously missing are such titans of the twenties as James Branch 
CabeU, Louis Hergesheimer, Carl Van Vechten, and earlier writers 
who were widely read by the writers of the twenties (and their readers) 
such as Jack London, Guy de Maupassant, Anatole France and Sigrid 
Undset. John Steinbeck and Richard Wright lead a kind of twilight 
existence in the literary experience of the beat generation writers, but 
Nelson Algren is very vivid, very much in the foreground. If I did not 
mention him among the "influences" and ancestors it is because he is 
regarded as a contemporary, along with Salinger and Mailer and Man- 
del. Dostoevski is, as I have noted earlier, an all-pervading influence 
that, for this very reason, no one thinks of mentioning. Recently, owing 
to new reprints or new translations, Nikolai Gogol and Isaac Babel are 
being read. Gorki is still read in some circles but Tolstoy, Andreiev, 
Turgenev and Lermontov are known only by name. Chekhov is still 
read by the short story writers among the beat with pleasure and profit. 
Thomas Mann and Marcel Proust are honored and unread classics. 
William Saroyan's early short stories are sought out in yellowing paper 
backs, and in some quarters he is listed as an "influence" among beat 
writers. Henry James is tough going for them, despite the lively press 



THE BAEBABIAN IS AT THE GATES 233 

agent job that has been done on him in recent years. Sinclair Lewis has 
joined Henry James as "schoolbook stuff," so the younger writers tell 
me an uneasy twosome! Mikhail Sholokhov's And Quiet Flows the 
Don has joined Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front 
as "one of those war books" that one must get around to reading one of 
these days just to see what all the shootin' was about. Fashions like 
reading Stendahl or Trollope may make a stir in English classes and 
among the exurbanites, but not in beat writer circles. The same is true 
of the occasional succes de scandals, like Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita or 
Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago. They are read by beat writers but, 
being translations, they can have little effect on style or content in their 
own writing. Nabokov's Lolita, for all the praise that many critics 
lavished on its style, is still a foreign language to beat writers, and its 
shock value is nil, if not actually incomprehensible, in the pads. 

The same thing is true of passing fashions in poet-revivals. Some 
body writes a critical essay in one of the university quarterlies or in the 
Saturday Review about Robert Frost and the English majors go rush 
ing to the undergraduate library to snatch everything catalogued under 
Frost, R. off the shelves. Or Carl Sandburg is seen on television once 
again and the public library has a small run on Sandburg, G. But the 
beat poets are unmoved by such flurries of interest in writers they have 
read exhaustively at college or in the public library five or ten years 
ago and found unrewarding as far as language or the tricks of their 
craft are concerned. They can learn more from one page of Charles 
Olson or even a good translation of Zen poems. 

Polish, in the classroom sense of "good writing," is no more important 
to them in a poem or a piece of prose than it is on their shoes. That is 
one reason why the university-bred poets of the forties have had vir 
tually no influence on the poetry of the beat generation. Of the fifteen 
poets anthologized by John Ciardi in his Mid-Century American Poets, 
all were college bred and twelve had taught or were teaching in col 
leges and universities, but none of them has been able to achieve any 
thing like the freedom of style or content that rings a bell with the 
beat It is not their college meal ticket or their learning that is held 
against them some of the best-educated men and women in the his 
tory of American literature are numbered among them. It is just that 
they can't swing with that beat because they are too conscious of every 
word they put on paper: you can't dance freely if you have to watch 



234 THE HOLY BAJRBAHIANS 

your step. The security of the academic life can become as addictive as 
heroin and harder to kick. Besides, there are too many eyes looking in 
at the mating with the Muse, cramping the creative act. In time the 
built-in censorship becomes familial, like a loved, benevolent monster 
who provides everything, everything except the freedom to be a clown 
or a fool. You can be the court jester on a university payroll but you 
can't be the all-out, truthtelling bard and still hold the Chair of Poetry. 
You can't even be an honest critic of literature, lest you fall into the 
trap of being guilty by association with the truthtelling writer. 

For the same plus a few additional reasons, the Robert Perm Warren- 
Allen Tate-John Crowe Ransome Axis is "nowhere" as far as the holy 
barbarians are concerned, and the feeling seems to be mutual. Like 
the Poll Tax DMecrats in Congress who hold all the key chairman 
ships, this Confederate Bund has bottled up everything that comes out 
of the beat writing camp and, in the publications they control, nothing 
of the kind is ever reported out of committee. 

Yet the holy barbarians respect learning wherever they find it, on 
campus or off, but on this point the feeling is not mutual. "They never 
read anything," one college English teacher charged during a sym 
posium on the beat generation in which I participated. He himself was a 
Rhodes scholar, had been "named" by the un-American committee and 
"was allowed to resign." Since then he had made the rounds of the 
pads in Venice West and San Francisco and seen the bookshelves and 
attended the readings and yet, when it came to making a public state 
ment about it, he reverted to an intramural position, defending the 
academic gates against the barbarians. Besides, as a Leftist in politics, 
disaffiliation is defeatism to him, and poverty, voluntary or involuntary, 
is a crime against the Cause. Rightists and Leftists stand shoulder to 
shoulder at the gates when it comes to required courses, credentials 
and degrees. 

The position of Poet in Residence, is the university's attempt to meet 
the challenge of the times and present something in the way of a 
"creative writing course," but it is looked upon by the die-hards of the 
faculty as a breach in the walls that may let in the whole horde of 
barbarians. They need have little fear, however. The position of Poet 
in Residence, like the more ancient Oxford Chair of Poetry, is already 
proving to be a potent tamer and refiner of poets. But in the meantime 
the protectors of English Lit are watchful and regard even a one-shot 



THE BAKBABIAN IS AT THE GATES 235 

lecture or reading on campus by any of the holy barbarians of litera 
ture as a crisis. 

For a time it looked as if the summer "writers' workshop" might 
become a kind of halfway house between the creative writer and the 
university, but the professors and critics were not long in taking over. 
Today there are hundreds of these workshops from coast to coast, but 
they are little more than off-campus summer courses for amateurs on 
the make for credits or publication. The holy barbarians shun them. 
They prefer the informal literary gab fests of the pads, and as for pub 
lic performance, they prefer the saloons and coffeehouse readings and 
Jazz Canto jam sessions. These are more in the oral tradition and give 
the artists more freedom of discussion and expression. 

What is the sound these holy barbarians of literature are putting 
down that is so frightening to the guardians of the Required and the 
Refined? Let us begin with the poets, since it is the poets who are 
today, as they have always been in every literary movement, in the 
vanguard. 

" Say it ? no ideas but in things " 

First, the "ancestors" of these poets. In what are almost the first lines 
of his long poem Paterson, William Carlos Williams, the oldest living 
poet among these ancestors, lays down the beat and the sound: 

Say it, no ideas but in things 
nothing but the blank faces of the houses 
and cylindrical trees 

bent, f oked by preconception and accident 
split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained 
secret into the body of light! . . . 

A man like a city and a woman like a flower 

who are in love. Two women. Three women, 
Innumberable women, each like a flower. 

But 
only one man like a city. 38 

The object mirrored in the poetic image, that comes first. The poet 
comes clean; lie tells only what he knows, what his vision has showni 



236 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

him, and lie tells it starkly, but with energy, energy from the mysterious 
source of all artistic energy, says it and stops. It might be a single 
flower, a cloud, a single person or a city. The principle is the same. 
"Say it, no idea but in things." Like a Hopper streetscape. 

From first to last as in Paterson so in Venice West. Here, for exam 
ple, is one of the youngest of the holy barbarians, Stuart Z. Perkoff, in 
some lines from his Venice Poems: 

the city itself, what it 
is, a 

city of walking at nite 
city of old and ugly houses 
city of real pain and real children 
city of open sores and open eyes 
city of doom and terror 
city of ocean and animal lust 
city of dying and struggle 
city of Venice, my city, city within a city I do not 

know or love 



what a city is/ 

a vision, a 
holy eye, a 

structure 

what a city is/ 

a face, a face of 

love, of the place, the real 

place. . . . 

yes, there is a kind of 

knowing, it can be called 

love 39 

If all things are holy it is enough to present the thing, as the poet- 
seer of the past made holy the objects of the ritual act by a form of 
words spoken or chanted, without himself, as a person, becoming in 
volved in the act. It is as if everything that "came" to the poet for 
transmission was postmarked Handle with Reverence, that is, handle 



THE BARBAEIAN IS AT THE GATES 237 

ritualistically, sacramentally. Even the unloading of a boxcar, as in 
this poem by Perkoff : 

lifting 
a piece 
of black steel 
and carefully 

( conforming to a pattern 
previously set down 
after extensive 
testing) 

placing it on a construction 
of boards 

extending 

certain aspects of bodily structure 
to the limits of tensions 

actions taken 
within a situation 

once calculated 
to destroy all pleasure 

now seen to contain 
evocations 40 

"The trick is never to touch the world anywhere," as William Carlos 
Williams says 

Leave yourself at the door, walk in, admire the pictures, 
talk a few words with the master of the house, question his wife 
a little, rejoin yourself at the door and go off arm in arm listen 
ing to last week's symphony played by angel hornsmen from the 
benches of a turned cloud. 41 

Dr. Williams, as a practicing family doctor, was already half a sha 
man from the start. The kind of "nonattachment" that he describes is 
traditional with the healer. It is also very close to the Buddhist concept 
of nonattachment 

"In Buddhism," says Watts, "the four principal activities of man 
walking, standing, sitting, and lying are called the four 'dignities/ 
since they are the postures assumed by the Buddha nature in its human 



238 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

(nirmanakaya) body. The ritualistic style of conducting one's everyday 
activities is therefore a celebration of the fact that 'the ordinary man is 
a Buddha/ and is, furthermore, a style that comes almost naturally to 
a person who is doing everything with total presence of mind. Thus if 
in something so simple and trivial as lighting a cigarette one is fully 
aware, seeing the flame, the curling smoke, and the regulation of the 
breath as the most important thing in the universe, it will seem to an 
observer that the action has a ritualistic style." 42 The ballet-like move 
ments of the western hero of motion pictures come to mind, as he 
appears mounted, walking, rolling a cigarette. Certain gang leaders, 
even among the juvenile delinquents, cultivate such a style, made 
classic on the screen by James Dean, and by Marlon Brando in The 
Wild One. Charles Olson celebrates these ritualistic movements in The 
Lordly and Isolate Satyrs: 

The lordly and isolate Satyrs look at them come in 

on the left side of the beach 

like a motorcycle club! And the handsomest of them, 

the one who has a woman, driving that snazzy 

convertible 

Wow, did you ever see even in a museum 
such a collection of boddisatvahs, the way 
they come up to their stop, each of them 
as though it was a rudder 
the way they have to sit above it 
and come to a stop on it, the monumental solidity 
of themselves, the Easter Island 
they make of the beach, the Red-headed Men 

These are the Androgynes, 
the Fathers behind the father, the Great Halves . . , 43 

Contrast, the significant juxtaposition of opposites, presenting a pic 
ture of the world in all its beauty and terror, is found in the poetry of 
the holy barbarians in more extreme form than in the more polished 
and respectable poets. "I walked on the banks of the tincan banana 
dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific loco 
motive/' writes Allen Ginsberg in the first strophe of his Sunflower 
Sutra, "... I rushed up enchanted it was my first sunflower, mem 
ories of Blake my visions Harlem/ and Hells of the Eastern rivers," 



THE BABBAEIAN IS AT THE GATES 239 

bridges clanking Joes Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby 
carriages, black treadless tires forgotten and un- 
treaded, the poem of the riverbank, condoms and pots, 
steel knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck and 
the razor sharp artifacts passing into the past 

and the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset, crackly 
bleak and dusty with the smut and smog and smoke 
of olden locomotives in its eye. . . . 

A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent 

lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye to the 
new hip moon, woke up alive and excited grasping in the 
sunset shadow sunrise golden monthly breeze! 44 

Kenneth Patchen is a master of such contrasts: 

O great blind horses squatting above the world 
The reins hang slack in the bitter wind 
The shadows of clouds pass like wounded hands 
O where can the heart of man be comforted 

In the valley the wild flowers 
Shake themselves upright again 
The red violets 45 

Things as they are. "The commonplace is what we see" says Gregory 
Corso. To the Zen Buddhist they are tathata, viewing things as they 
are. To the poet they are what he sees, his reality. He is what he feels 
himself to be at that particular moment of time, in the making of the 
poem. As in Corso's The Last Gangster: 

Waiting by the window 

my feet enwrapped with the dead bootleggers of Chicago 

I am the last gangster, safe at last, 

waiting by a bullet-proof window. 

I look down the street and know 

the two torpedoes from St. Louis. 

I've watched them grow old 

. . . guns rusting in their arthritic hands. 46 

There is still another characteristic that is worthy of notice in these 
poets, the sense of the absurd, the role of the clown, the Holy Fool, 



240 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

"Constantly risking absurdity" 

In the cults that gave rise to early Christianity there must have been 
an understanding of the Fool in the poetic imagination and the thera 
peutic release of laughter. Not much of it got into the official canon of 
the New Testament This element is the first casualty whenever a 
religion becomes an institution. There are a couple of passages in 
Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians which are rendered as follows 
in the Revised Standard Version: 

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness 
of God stronger than men. For consider your call, brethren; not 
many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many 
were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose 
what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is 
weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low 
and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to 
nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the 
presence of God. 

and: 

Let no one deceive himself. If any among you thinks he is wise 
in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For 
the wisdom of this world is folly with God. 

The British painter Cecil Collins made a cycle of paintings and 
drawings called "The Holy Fools" and in the preface of a book called 
The Vision of the FooZ/ 7 in which they are reproduced, he has this 
to say about Christ the Fool. 

The greatest fool in history was Christ. This great fool was 
crucified by the commercial pharisees, by the authority of the 
respectable, and by the mediocre official culture of the philistines. 
And has not the church crucified Christ more deeply and subtly 
by its hypocrisy than any pagan? This Divine Fool, whose im 
mortal compassion and holy folly placed a light in the dark hands 
of the world. 

The New Testament Christ is without any question at all a folk hero 
figure of ritual drama, and Paul's words may point to one act of the 



THE BARBARIAN IS AT THE GATES 241 

drama in which the Messiah enacted the role of the Divine Fool in 
some sacrificial rite. The analogous role of the truth-possessed artist is 
one that poets and painters have recognized for centuries; it is not sur 
prising that it is a frequent theme of the holy barbarians. 

In one of Lawrence Ferlinghettf s poems the poet appears as the 
acrobatic clown, akin to Nietzsche's ropedancer ("Man is a rope 
stretched between the animal and the Superman ... a rope over an 
abyss. A dangerous crossing" In Zamthustra, 4). 

Constantly risking absurdity 

and death 
whenever he performs 

above the heads 

of his audience 
the poet like an acrobat 

climbs on rime 

to a high wire of his own making 
. . . For he is a super realist 

who must perforce perceive 
taut truth 

before the taking of each stance or step 
in his supposed advance 

toward that still higher perch 
where beauty stands and waits 

with gravity 

to start her death-defying leap 48 

The poet on the college payroll can risk religious heresy (except in 
denominational colleges); he can risk subversion (except in state-sup 
ported universities); he can even risk outspoken sexuality (if he doesn't 
publish it too conspicuously); but he can never risk absurdity. In de 
cent society, even among the best-educated people, it is the cardinal 
sin. It is something that only the disafflliated poet of the slum can per 
mit himself. Yet it is traditionally one of the high moments of the 
poetic rite. 

"In a respectable practical society, where everybody is useful," says 
Collins, "the poetic imagination in man is an anachronism, an irritant 
which disturbs the chemical sleeping habits of such a society by mak 
ing it conscious of the degradation of its mechanization, by the appear- 



242 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

ance of extraordinary desires; By overshadowing it with the supra- 
reality o poetry, by unsettling it with a thirst and a hunger for eternal 
beauty, just at the moment when this society thought that everybody 
was satisfied." 49 

The Clown as Holy Fool is also a familiar theme of the painters 
among the holy barbarians, and so is the Crucifixion theme, which is 
always handled in the most unchurchly, unconventional and often 
quite unchristian fashion. For the Holy Rood is far older than Chris 
tianity, going back to tree worship and the phallic cults. 

Zen Buddhism, too, is filled with tales of sainted "lunatics" whose 
antics are parables of wisdom. It is the part of Zen that, more than 
anything else, commends itself to the beat. Alan W. Watts calls this 
beat Zen as distinguished from square Zen, but adds that he has "no 
real quarrel with either extreme." 

The extremes of beat Zen need alarm no one since, as Blake 
said, "the fool who persists in his folly becomes wise." As for 
square Zen, "authoritative" spiritual experiences have always had 
a way of wearing thin, and thus of generating the demand for 
something genuine and unique which needs no stamp. 50 

The poetry and art of the holy barbarians could stand, if anything, 
more clowning than it already has. Ferlinghettfs work is often shot 
through with social satire, as in Dog, 51 and in Christ Climbed Down: 

Christ climbed down 

from His bare Tree 

this year 

and ran away to where 

no intrepid Bible salesmen 

covered the territory 

in two-tone Cadillacs 

and where no Sears Roebuck creches 

complete with plastic babe in manger 

arrived by parcel post 

the babe by special delivery 

and where no televised Wise Men 

praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey 52 



THE BABBAB1AN IS AT THE GATES 243 

More often, as in James Broughton's True and False Unicom, the 
Fool appears in a mood of self-exploration, even self -mockery: 

And how shall I conceal my nakedness here? 
white, like a maiden's moonlit belly, 
white, like an undressed Absolute. 
White is the final pure purgation: 
sterile gown of the hospital room, 
winding sheet, skeleton, the ash. 

Animate and inanimate, O ambiguous steed! 
In Jabberwock land, or Elysium 
where am I truly or falsely at home? 

I am the charm sought for a miracle, 
I am the harm mocked for a failure. 
I am both savior and scapegoat 53 

In my own Fete de Vane For Buridans Ass (on a theme from Kier 
kegaard, "What the philosophers say about reality is often just as it is 
when you read a sign at a second-hand store: 'Ironing done here/ If 
you should come with your clothes to get them ironed, you'd be fooled; 
for only the sign is for sale,") the Fool is the subject of a philosophical 
dilemma: 

THE HIEROPHANT 

Now in the third hour 

they lead the beast to the enthronement 
garlanded with onion, the fool's rose 

See him stand, between two bundles of hay, 
the epiphenominal automaton 
and bray his blasphemous Amen 
while goliards chant the office of the day 

THE POSTULANT 
If rumor is to be believed, the mark 
upon his back is cruciform, 
whereon a veiled figure rides 



244 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

But whether the Virgin or the Whore 
it is not given me to see 

In matters antinomian the management 
is most discreet ... I only know 

I heard a voice and saw a lifted hand 

ignite a torch and put it to the veil 

I think the voice cried Reason! 

and the hand was red 
A mere illusion, surely, nothing 

to excite the press, and yet I swear 
The air was sharp as urine and the noise 

like noises of the newly dead. 

THE HIEROPHANT 
This too I see 

The giant spiders loosed upon their prey 
the python coiled around the pig 
the clown they crucified upon the tree 

CHORUS OF POSTULANTS 
Is it true as they whisper, hissing in your ear, 
the spear was tipped with novocaine? 
Science at an atheist's Mass! 54 

Cecil Collins suggests that, "In our age, one of the greatest feast 
days should be April 1st All Fool's Day. A day that should be kept 
and celebrated religiously and universally ... a holy day given over 
to the divine fantasy of holy gaiety." If that time ever comes, it will be 
the holy barbarians who will make the ritual words for it, perhaps with 
music in the Jazz Canto art form and with dance added, and perform 
the rite as shaman and bard. 

Madness: The Theme of Unreason 

One of the things which distinguishes the holy barbarians from the 
respectable poets is their insistence on the nonrational as a way of 
knowing and a therapy to overcome squareness. As E. R. Dodds has 



THE BARBARIAN IS AT THE GATES 245 

pointed out, in The Greeks and the Irrational, the social function of the 
Dionysiac ritual was "essentially cathartic, in the psychological sense: 
it purged the individual of those infectious irrational impulses which, 
when dammed up, give rise, as they have done in other cultures, to 
outbreaks of dancing mania and similar manifestations of collective 
hysteria; it relieved them by providing them with a ritual outlet." 55 
The poets who composed the word forms that went with such ritual 
dramas of psychological therapy were aiming at wholeness. He who 
would save his life must lose it, dying to the self, reintegrating the 
conscious with the unconscious these are some of the formulations 
in which it has been expressed at one time or another. Baudelaire and 
those who followed him, Rimbaud, Verlaine and the whole roster of 
poets and artists whose path is marked by such developments as Sym 
bolism, Impressionism, Imagism, Surrealism, all served the useful, in 
dispensable purpose of exploring the problem and experimenting with 
the forms in which it might be resolved. They left their bloody foot 
prints on a road that some of the holy barbarians are now retracing. 
Zen tells them that they need not retrace it. That there is a more direct 
approach to holiness. Satori, enlightenment, the Zen master tells them, 
can cut the Gordian knot. 

But the road to Zen is harder for the Western mind than it is for the 
Eastern mind. Since the Renaissance the pursuit of truth as a process 
of reasoning, of choosing thought, to the exclusion of all other ways of 
knowing is, consequently, more violent in the West than elsewhere in 
the world. Poets like Robert Duncan, William Everson (who has be 
come a Dominican friar and writes under the name of Brother Anton 
inus) and Charles Foster of the Venice West group have frequently 
given expression to this agonia, the conflict between reason and un 
reason as ways of knowing and paths to salvation and enlightenment. 
Others, like Gary Snyder and Philip Lamantia, have taken the Way of 
Zen, although the results are not yet fully developed in their poetry. 

Allen Ginsberg may be regarded, I think, as a poet in transition 
between the agonia and the Dharma, which Zen Buddhists define as 
the method by which self -frustration may be brought to an end. "I saw 
the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hys 
terical naked/' he wrote in the opening line of H owl, and the critics of 
the liberal magazines have been having a field day with it ever since. 
The "best minds," according to them, are the ones who write in the 



246 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

liberal weeldies and quarterlies, and there are probably no poets at all 
among them barring the Great Dead but only critics and profes 
sors. (Exceptions are made, of course, in the case of the Great Nearly 
Dead) How can the best minds of a generation, they ask, be described 
as 

angleheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly 

connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, 

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up 

smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold water flats 
floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz 56 

Yet it is one of these same minds that, in Siesta in Xbalba, on another 
journey of the Quest, is seen 

... in a concrete room 

above the abandoned 
labyrinth of Palenque 

measuring my fate, 
wandering solitary in the wild 

blinking singleminded 
at a bleak idea 

until exhausted with 
its action and contemplation 

my soul might shatter 
at one primal moment's 

sensation of the vast 
movement of divinity. 

And after those nights "with drag and hammock at Chichen Itza on the 
Castle," back to the States: 

The nation over the border 
grinds its arms and dreams 

of war: I see 
the fiery blue clash 

of metal wheels 



THE BABBARIAN IS AT THE GATES 247 

clanking in the industries 

of night, and 
detonations of infernal 
bombs 

. . . and the silent downtown 
of the States 

in watery dusk submersion. 57 

Back and forth between Heaven and Hell and, in the process, leaving 
a record of the journey that is unmatched by any of the best minds 
among the poets that are approved of by the editors of the liberal 
magazines. 

Even some printers will have no part of Ginsberg. I recall the time 
when James Boyer May brought me the manuscript of HotoZ, which 
had been turned over to him by Lawrence Ferlinghetti to send to 
London to be printed. May told me that the London printer whom he 
represents in the United States had serious misgivings about printing 
it and that he, May, thought it was just ^ lot of filthy words without 
literary merit. I told him that if John Sankey, the printer-publisher of 
London who runs the Villiers Press, never printed anything lout Howl 
it would probably be the only thing he would ever be remembered for. 
May asked me to write to Sankey and I did, telling him the same thing. 
Sankey printed it, Ferlinghettf s City Lights Books published it and 
today it is a landmark in the literature of the holy barbarians. The few 
critics who were impressed and moved by it could not help (since 
then) expressing the fervent wish that neither Ginsberg nor anybody 
else would write another poem like it. Once is enough for them. It pre 
sents them with too stark a challenge and too embarrassing a critical 
problem. 

"A psychological impasse is the necessary antecedent of satori," says 
D. T. Suzuki, "and the worst enemy of Zen experience, at least in the 
beginning, is the intellect, which consists and insists in discriminating 
subject from object. The discriminating intellect, therefore, must be 
cut short if Zen consciousness is to unfold itself." 58 

The problem is nowhere described more searchingly and more 
amusingly than by Gary Snyder in his poem What I Think When 
I Meditate. 



248 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

Well, I could tell you that I could tell 

you but you wouldn't understand, but I won't 
You'd understand but I can't, I mean dig, 

this here guitar is gone bust 
I hate to sit crosslegged 
my knees hurt my nose runs and I have to go 

to the crapper 

tootsweet and damn that timeclock keeper won't ding. 
WHAT I think about when I meditate is emptiness. 

I remember it well 

the empty heads the firecracker phhhht 

But what I really think about is sex 

sort of patterns of sex 
like dancing hairs and goosebumps 

No, honestly 

what I think about is what am I thinking about? 

and 
who am I? and 'MU?' and 'the clouds 

on 
the 

southern mt* 
Well: what I really honestly think about, no fooling . . . (etc.) 59 

Fooling, clowning, is one approach to Zen and some of its greatest 
masters were Fools in the great tradition. Through Unreason the dis 
criminating intellect is disarmed and led to the state of "unknowing" 
without the violent autovivisection of a Baudelaire or a Verlaine, or 
any yogic derangements of the autonomic nervous system. As a 
method, the madness of the Zen Lunatics has much to commend it and 
the poets among the holy barbarians are learning how to use it, though 
for some it is harder than for others. In his prose, Charles Foster, for 
instance, has already taken a long step in this direction, but in his 
poetry he is still groping for it. "Grass doesn't grow on the floor of my 
mother's patio" he begins, wryly, his Preliminary Report on Rerum 
Naturem. 

2 x 2 the bricks are laid 
there, parquetted, right angled 
to each other pair, except 



THE BARBARIAN IS AT THE GATES 249 

near the northwest corner there's 
a three foot square trapdoor 
to dirt where God's monopoly, 
a tree is coming up for air. 



So for the length of a time 

exposure, I unshuttered 

my eyes but what developed 

was not the green leaves in their 

always cadences of three 

but unholy 'trinities,' 

'triads' punning into 'dryads' 

'tryptyching' deciduous 

chords from the 'doxology* 

(the wood was full of spritely words and 

erect and sticky headed 

yellow stamen blew up storms 

of phallic substantives 

while the mutation of a 

cliche was grafted in the space 

of a single word to the 

one ripe orange) and so forth in 

finitum ad verbium (and 

in the next yard's avocado 

Whitman's and Homer's roars were 

drowned out by Wm. Wordsworth's) 

and I could see this wasn't 

my day to pass through the sharp 

eye to the workshops of heaven but 

there's another now coming soon 

( Day to make love to a real 
tree, garbage can or a cloud 
not of words of my own making 
the little yellow flower, 
nothing straw in crannied brick 
and brown patches, red, rich black 
God's loam in many colors.) 60 

It transpires in an instant yet it may take many "another now com 
ing," maybe months, maybe years hence. When the mind is no longer 



250 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

divided against itself, into the duality of tie knower and the known, 
one "get's hip/' experiencing samadH awakening. 

The Prose of the Holy Barbarians 

While the poetry of the holy barbarians is already highly developed, 
the prose is only in its beginnings. Kerouac, the best known of the 
novelists in this genre, has published books, no two of them alike in 
prose style. He comes closest to the authentic voice of the people he is 
portraying in The Subterraneans than in any of the other books. That 
is why it has drawn more brickbats from the established critics than 
have his other books. "This proves it/' cried one of them exultantly, 
"that the trouble with Kerouac is he can't write.*' It would set back not 
only Kerouac but other novelists working in this field, if he permits 
himself to be touted off the style of The Subterraneans by the so-called 
"good writing" standards of conventional criticism, as he shows signs 
of doing in The Dharma Bums. 

Other prose writers like Clellon Holmes, Anatole Broyard and R. V. 
Cassill utilize the material of the holy barbarians but their style re 
mains largely conventional. Holmes's The Horn is a sensitive treatment 
of jazz musicians, perhaps the best that has been done by anybody so 
far. Where he employs the language of his characters his ear is good: 

"Man/' Edgar was saying, as if imagining what the young 
mothers and the old men were thinking. "Who's that, that when 
ever you see him, 's got a goddamn suitcase in his hand, like he's 
always running late for a bus, coming from no place and going 
somewhere else? Man, who is that?" His eyes stared at the world 
remotely. "Like, lady, that's a musician, and that's a horn, and he 
probably got a change of socks, and his razor, and a coupla rub 
bers, and two sticks of tea, and maybe even a extra shirt in there 
with his reeds. So you watch out, oh, yes! ... I mean, that man is 
a musician, and he's just transporting his horn from one place to 
another like usual, and probably don't own nothing else in the 
goddamn world but that goddamn piece of goddamn luggage. I 
mean, that man is God's own fool, now ain't he?" 61 

In his earlier novel Go, Holmes attempted something like a clinical 
diagnosis of the beat generation: "The end of the ego, the death of 



THE BABBABIAN IS AT THE GATES 251 

the will! . . . die, give up, go mad. . . . We should expect people (and 
ourselves mainly, of course) not only to understand why other people 
think us abhorrent, unbearable, a contagious disease . . . but to accept 
it as well! Not even to feel humiliated . . . even in the heart!" 62 

Here Holmes felt it necessary to explain what was happening, ad 
dressing himself to a square readership. The principals in his books 
are (with the exception of The Horn) squares exposed to contact with 
the cats. In the work of Anatole Broyard and R V. Cassill both worlds 
meet and receive equal emphasis. In George Handel's work the 
squares, the others, are present only occasionally, and are always seen 
through the eyes of the Insiders, the cats. In Kerouac the Others are 
shadowy, almost mythical monsters, usually alien and menacing, al 
though in The Dharma Bums some of them are almost benign. 

The lifeways of the beat generation remain almost wholly un 
touched so far by the novelists. Kerouac has only scratched the surface. 
On the Road depicts the beatnik of the forties, not the fifties. The 
Dharma Bums is confined to a small circle of writers, poets and 
novelists, and their chicks. Writers and jazz musicians are a part of 
the scene, but only a small part. It is chiefly the novelists who are 
responsible for the widespread impression that the beat generation 
consists of only a handful of writers and artists. Writers writing about 
fellow writers can make interesting reading but this fails to provide 
the reader with anything like a comprehensive picture of the beat 
generation. The "rucksack revolution" of Kerouac's Dharma bums is 
only a very small part of the scene, and by no means the most signi 
ficant part. Nor is the lif e of the jazz musician the whole story either. 
Holmes's jazz scene belongs to the bop era of a decade and more ago, 
which is nothing against it, except that the period is not clearly enough 
specified in the novel so that most readers, unfamiliar with the history 
of jazz, will conclude that it is contemporary and form an erroneous 
impression of what the jazzman's life is like at the present time. 

Kerouac's picture is misleading in another respect. The narrator in 
The Dharma Bums is constantly fleeing from the city and the problems 
of livelihood and so are most of the characters in the book. It is made 
explicit again and again that the altar under the tall pines is bigger 
and better than the cathedral, and this is quite true, but the general 
impression left with the reader is that the holy barbarian is a twentieth- 
century Thoreau. This is true of only a small segment of the beat 



252 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

generation. The vast majority of them live in the cities and are trying 
to solve their problems within the framework of urban life. Nor are 
they likely to give more than lip service to Kerouac's notion that "the 
only decent activity left in the world" is to "pray for all living crea 
tures." It is a very superficial notion based on a misunderstanding of 
the Zen practice of "sitting quietly, doing nothing/' The prayer of 
intercession, whether for man or beast, is no part of it. Who is any man 
to intercede for anyone or anything? There is too much of Hallelujah 
I'm a Buddha! Hallelujah I'm a Bodhisattva! in the The Dharma Bums. 
The Zen elements in the novel stick out like so many unassimilated 
lumps. When he has succeeded in making Zen more a part of his 
experience Kerouac will be able to handle such material more naturally 
in the lives of his characters rather than as intermittent sermons and 
hallelujahs. So far he has been most successful where he deals directly 
with his characters, as in On the Road and The Subterraneans, notably 
in the latter. His first published novel, The Town and The City (first, 
that is, in publishing, not necessarily writing chronology), is a sensitive 
picture of the life it depicts the dope addict, the beat poet, the 
criminal hangers-on but its style, except in the dialogue, is still con 
ventional. In short, Kerouac has still to master his idiom. He is further 
along the road to mastering it than any of the other novelists handling 
similar material, but he has a long way to go before he can take off 
in a direct line, stylistically, from the Tropics books of Henry Miller. 
My own guess is that the poets among the holy barbarians may yet be 
the ones who will blaze the trail with a prose idiom suitable to this 
material, as they have with the poetic idiom. A careful and close read 
ing of Kenneth Patchen's The Journal of Albion Moonlight will illu 
minate the problems and point the way to such a prose idiom, I think. 
The way of life of the holy barbarians, then, is much more fully 
developed than their prose literature, which does not "cover" it as 
successfully as, say, Hemingway covered the Lost Generation, or Dos 
Passos the Generation of the thirties, or Mailer the World War II and 
postwar Generation. Henry Miller spans the thirties and the forties 
with a body of work that may yet be seen, in the perspective of the 
future, as more significant than anyone else's. In poetry, William Carlos 
Williams, Kenneth Patchen and Kenneth Rexroth, whose writings span 
three decades, may yet loom larger than Eliot or Pound. Certainly their 
idiom is more native and their thematic material more relevant. If they 



THE BAKBAKIAN IS AT THE GATES 253 

have sometimes shown a tendency to disown their beat generation 
progeny Rexroth and Patchen have been particularly testy about it 
on several occasions it is nothing new in the inside family history of 
literary generations. 

One tendency in the work of the prose writers, as well as the poets 
among the holy barbarians, is very marked: the trend toward a com 
bination of poetry and prose. Free verse can now be seen as a step 
in that direction and, from the other direction, the writings of James 
Joyce. The oral revolution against the Geneva Code will never be fully 
expressed in any literary form that draws a hard and fast line between 
poetry and prose. The early bards and minstrels moved from narrative 
to poetry and back again as naturally as they moved from the spoken 
to the sung or the chanted word. 

The task is to create an idiom that will bring the word once more 
back to life. As the oral revolution continues to grow and the word 
finds its voice again, prose and poetry will draw together. William 
Carlos Williams, in Paterson moves from poetry to prose and back 
again without any break in the continuity of thought. Louis Zukofsky 
does likewise in his long poem "A" (probably only a working title), 
portions of which have been published sporadically and obscurely 
through the years. The Journal of Albion Moonlight is a mixture of 
poetry and prose. Reading it aloud, it is not always possible to tell 
when the one leaves off and the other begins. There is no difference in 
the intensity, the "charge," only a difference in the degree of concen 
tration and the syntax. 

Writers like Clellan Holmes go maudlin when they leave conven 
tional prose and try to pass over into poetry. What results is a rhetor 
ical poeticizing that is neither poetry nor prose. George Mandel is 
more successful in spots. R. V. Cassill, Anatole Broyard and others 
who have been bracketed with the holy barbarians because of their 
subject matter, rarely attempt it. It is not an easy trick to bring off. 
Dylan Thomas might have made it if he had lived long enough to carry 
a step or two further what he began in works like Under Milk Wood 
and Adventures in the Skin Trade. Jack Kerouac may yet bring it off 
if he can bring himself to approach the problems it involves with more 
humility than he shows in The Dharma Bums. Charles Olson's Maxi- 
mus poems are a step in that direction and his The Lordly and Isolate 
Satyrs a still longer step. Charles Foster approaches it in The Troubled 



254 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

Makers*, and Robert Duncan possesses the necessary skills in both 
media to make a very promising try for it. 

It is not just a question of straining to do something new and differ 
ent in the writing arts, or rediscovering and reviving old forms in a 
contemporary idiom. The simple fact is that the lifeways of the holy 
barbarians represent such a radical departure from the society that a 
novel in the style of, say, Saul Bellow or John Steinbeck is totally 
inadequate to bring the scene to life. It would be like trying to stage 
an African fertility rite on the stage of a college auditorium. 

One thing is certain. There is no guarantee that hallucination, 
whether induced by trance or drugs, will "bring up" anything more 
than platitudes and cliches, no matter how "dissociated" or "far-out" 
the artist may be, unless he possesses an original mind, a great gift 
and a knowledge of his craft As in the ritual use of hallucinatory drugs 
in oral, preliterate cultures, where the emphasis is always on training 
and control, the Dionysian artist is faced with the difficult problem of 
maintaining a heart of fire and a mind of ice. Unlike the shaman, the 
poet in our Western book-dominated culture has no tradition to fall 
back on. He must create the controls along with the spell, hence the 
agony of composition. The poets among the holy barbarians are faced 
with the same problem. Kenneth Rexroth has rejected hallucination 
altogether. "These peoem are not in quest of hallucination. They owe 
nothing to the surrealism which was coming into fashion when they 
were being written," he says in a recent preface to his early book The 
Art of Worldly Wisdom. William Carlos Williams evidently puts no 
stock in trance or drug-induced hallucination, nor does Kenneth Patch- 
en, although both, and Rexroth as well, have praised wine as a dis- 
inhabitant. Dylan Thomas used beer and liquor heavily but those who 
saw him at work insist that he worked sober. In the years since his 
death much has been learned about his methods of work. To those 
poets who think that "out of the unconscious" is the same as drawing 
words blindfolded out of a hat, it has come as something of a shock to 
learn that Dylan's work was the result of repeated, often agonizing, 
revisions. 

- Our whole system of education is conceived to make squares out of 
us, to make us fit for the society in which we live. Diseducation and 
re-education is designed to make us tmfit for the society so that we are 
able to stand outside of it and view it with eyes unclouded by the 



THE BABBARIAN IS AT THE GATES 255 

smog of propaganda and the all-pervading pressures of social hypoc 
risy. The artists of the beat generation are taking upon themselves the 
task of presenting a smog-free vision of life. 



Painting and Music in Eeatland ~. 

Among the holy barbarians who pursue the arts nearly everybody 
paints or plays some kind of an instrument, if only bongo drums or 
the recorder. And everybody writes poetry. Painting is likely to mean 
anything from a student sketchbook full of pencil and pen drawings 
(often with poems on the same theme) to twelve-foot canvases in 
oils or common house paints. Many a Venice West landlord has walked 
into an apartment just vacated by some beatnik, who left without giv 
ing notice or paying back rent, to find all the walls and sometimes 
even the floors and doors covered with abstract murals, making it un- 
rentable to anybody else except perhaps another beatnik. Everybody 
is always drawing everybody else, at readings and at parties, and 
everybody is writing a book about everybody else. None but a fraction 
of this artistic activity will ever see completion, let alone exhibition or 
publication, but it will have served its purpose just the same, It is 
simply a part of "making the scene." 

In more professional art circles among the beat the problem that 
tries the soul and often makes and unmakes loves and friendships is 
the problem of whether to school one's talent or not to school it, to 
improvise or to play and structure, to "chart" or "just blow." Here 
again Zen Buddhism is an influence, even among those who have been 
affected by it indirectly, at second or third hand. The jazz musician 
may not know that his practice is close to that of Chinese music and 
the painter may not know that his insistence on spontaneity is akin 
to Zen practice in the arts, but both act upon assumptions that are 
basically similar. Chief among these assumptions is that the creative 
process is not an assault upon the materials of the art, a conquest, but 
an unfolding, a growth from within, as a tree grows. Watts points out 
that Malraux, for example, always speaks of the artist "conquering" 
his medium as one might conquer a mountain or conquer space. "To 
Chinese and Japanese ears these are grotesque expressions. For when 
you climb it is the mountain as much as your own legs which lifts you 



256 THE HOLY BABBAKIANS 

upwards, and when you paint it is the brush, ink and paper which 
determine the result as much as your own hand." 64 

Some have taken this to mean that anything that happens is the 
right thing. This has led to a spate of drip and smear paintings that, 
hung next to one another on the wall of some dimly lighted beer joint, 
may give a pleasing over-all impression of design and color, like some 
crazy wallpaper. This is the work of poet-painters and other amateurs 
and it serves a useful purpose for them, no doubt, but it is not good 
painting, by Zen standards or any other standards. "The constructive 
powers of the human mind are no more artificial than the formative 
actions of plants or bees/* says Watts, "so that from the standpoint of 
Zen it is no contradiction to say that artistic technique is discipline in 
spontaneity and spontaneity in discipline/' 65 Painting that "grows" from 
within the artist is what makes for the happy accident. As in poetry, 
the "lucky" accidents happen only to the artist who has made himself, 
through trained skills, the kind of a person to whom such accidents 
can happen. 

"Art is like a living tree," says painter Art Richer whose studio is on 
the Venice West canals, "and one must come up from the roots in order 
to branch out and become individual." 

"Art is love," says artist Wally Berman, and his words are scrawled 
on tie walls of the Venice West Espresso Cafe. 

"I never painted for money," says Art Richer. He has worked at 
many odd jobs anything that came to hand. At this writing he 
describes himself as "a bomb-diver at the La Brea tar pits." That is, 
he goes around picking up littered rubbish with a nail-pointed stick at 
a small park in Los Angeles which the city has turned into an arche- 
ological exhibit. Prehistoric animals were discovered there and were 
left in situ for the edification of visitors. Recently he acquired a small 
hand press and is turning out his own prints. When his paintings are 
exhibited, as they have been from time to time in some of the leading 
galleries, they sometimes sell at a good figure, but he doesn't want to 
become dependent on art sales. 

Wally Berman issues a magazine, Semina. Other artists make mo 
biles, decorative tiles and ceramics. John Altoon, one of the finest 
graphic artists in the country today, designs jazz album covers and 
teaches young artists whose work seems to him to hold promise. Ben 
Talbert is going to try to make it as a teacher, he says. But whatever 



THE BAEBAKIAN IS AT THE GATES 257 

way they choose to make a living, the painters who are most respected 
by the holy barbarians are those who are completely disaffiliated from 
the art game. 

The influences that these artists avow are chiefly painters like Mark 
Tobey, Morris Graves, Clayton Price and Kenneth Callahan, a group 
that is sometimes described as the Northwest School but which Venice 
West painters jokingly, but affectionately, call the Arctic School. Art 
Richer names Rico Lebrun as an influence, although he studied with 
him only briefly. "Patronage is one thing and the artist's audience is 
another," says Lebrun. "A lot of us are addressing ourselves to an au 
dience that is unable to purchase paintings but it is the only audience 
that really matters." The audience Lebrun is referring to here is the 
knowledgeable audience and also reads modern poetry and loves the 
modern dance and listens with equal pleasure to Bach and Charlie 
Parker. The others will come around in due time. "Immediate com 
munication with the larger audience may not be possible in all cases," 
says Lebrun. "That doesn't matter much to me. That would be graphic 
journalism. We have seen what happened to the social realists. They 
were so concerned with what they were saying to a ready-made au 
dience that they paid little attention to the way they said it." 

Don Jones, the Venice West painter who received his training at 
Black Mountain College, names Ben Shawn and Robert Motherwell 
as influences. Both of these painters taught summer courses at Black 
Mountain College. He also acknowledges the influence of Joe Fiore, 
the staff teacher in painting at the college. But one look at Jones's work 
is enough to prove to anyone that "influences" does not mean imita 
tion. The striking thing about all these painters is that there are no 
two alike. Their intuitive approach to the medium prevents any such 
stereotyping. Any resemblances to "school of painting" are purely 
accidental 

"Although I have always worked intuitively," says artist Abe Weiner, 
"I was not aware of the surrealistic nature of my process of expression 
till it was revealed to me by my reading of Wallace Fowlie. When I 
lay down a color it often conjures up associations of images and feel 
ings. When I lay down a number of colors there begins an interplay 
of many feelings and images. Soon there emerges one dominant feel 
ing or mood and a corresponding image. From here on it is a matter of 
discipline, setting down a harmonious juxtaposition of forms and colors." 



258 THE HOLY BAEBABIANS 

The result is a dialetic of contrasts, lines and masses in tension, and 
resolution of tension. 

"An artist," says Weiner, "experiences many deaths and many re 
births, each an upward climb of the ladder, or, in other terms, an 
outward-moving from the center." 

The net balance is on the side of life, and it is this perhaps that has 
endeared Weiner's work to Henry Miller, who calls him le grand mafcre 
and Henry has known them all, Leger, Chagal, Picasso. Like Miller 
(who takes "his own water-color drawings as seriously as his writings), 
Weiner works in broad strokes, directly and with contagious enthusiasm. 

The tug of war between abstract and representational painting is a 
critics' war, not a painters', as far as these artists are concerned. For 
example, in Weiner's studio you will see on one wall an exquisitely 
delicate female figure floating in waves of pale blue and coral while a 
Pan sprite fiddles on a stringed instrument; on another wall a series 
of jazz-inspired paintings; and on the wall opposite a geometrically 
organized composition of rectangles and circles in complementaries; 
and on the fourth wall a clown with unforgettable eyes; while on the 
floor stands a screen triptych in which Warrior, Poet and Priest are 
abstracted in stained-glasslike formations of line and color that are 
totally unrepresentational and yet recognizable for what they are 
meant to convey. 

The poet David Meltzer once said of Art Richer's painting that 'lie 
dissects the false hangnails of our innermost wincing," and there is 
point to what he says, but it is not the autovivisection without ether that 
the French surrealists inflicted upon themselves. As in Weiner's paint 
ings the net balance is an affirmation, on the side of life. It is not a 
question of mirroring life or nature. "I never paint places," says Weiner, 
"or persons. I paint pictures. I don't paint daylight. I don't paint 
nightlight. Shadows mean nothing to me. I paint paintings." 

The painters paint paintings and the musicians play sounds. The 
sound of jazz is never the same twice, not even from the same musician. 
As Woody Woodward says in Jazz Americana "It is a broad un 
confirmed sound that can be likened to the human voice; each voice 
possessing a timbre not entirely like any other. Jazz sound is a personal 
utterance, carrying with it the peculiarities of the individual. Almost 
any sound an instrument is capable of producing, within the realm of 
good taste, is acceptable in jazz. Despite this, a characteristic does 



THE BABBARIAN IS AT THE GATES 259 

exist; the general absence of a legitimate* attack. The jazz musician 
tends not to hit a note right on pitch. He is inclined more to slur or 
slide up to a note then slide on to the next without much more than 
passing through the pitch. ... A classical musician must produce a 
sound traditionally associated with his instrument ... In jazz the 
same instrument seldom sounds the same. One musician might play 
with a light vibrato-less tone, another dynamically., with a robust 
strident tone. The myriad of sounds between these two extremes are 
as numerous as the musicians playing jazz." 

What the holy barbarians see and hear in the painting and the music 
they make can only be experienced, it cannot be conveyed in words. 
Zen tradition has it that the Buddha transmitted awakening to his chief 
disciple Mahakasyapa by holding up a flower and remaining silent. 



PART IV 



14 



Lost Generation, Flaming Youth, 
Bohemian Leftist, Beat Generation 
Is There a Difference? 



ONE QUESTION THAT I HAVE ENCOUNTERED MORE OFTEN THAN ANY 

other in public discussions I have participated in on radio, television 
and lecture platforms is: What is there that's so different about the 
Beat generation? This question is always followed by the statement 
usually of some length and delivered with some heat, that there is 
nothing about the Beat generation that is new or different, that it is 
the same old rebellion against parental authority, against moral re 
straints, etc., that characterized the Lost generation of the postwar 
twenties, the flaming youth generation of the Jazz Age and, if the 
speaker is political-minded, the Marxist generation of the Depression 
years or the anti-rah-rah generation of the wartime and postwar forties. 
Having answered his own question the speaker sits down amid a little 
ripple of applause, content that he has said the last word, that only a 
willful fool or a stubborn partisan with an ax to grind would dare to 
challenge his simple, common-sense analysis of the matter. Like most 
simple, common-sense answers to social questions, it contains just 
enough of the truth to satisfy simple, common-sense people. Rebellion 
against authority is a nice, large generality which covers all genera 
tions and all periods of history. The important considerations, how 
ever, lie not in the likenesses but in the differences between one gen 
eration and another. 

In the 192(fs, Chuck Bennison, for instance, would have quit his 

263 



264 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

advertising agency job, as Sherwood Anderson did, but he would not 
in the twenties have shed his necktie, put on Levi's and gone to live 
in poverty in a slum, seeking "new ways of knowing" through pot and 
trance and far-out jazz as he did in the fifties. Sherwood Anderson's 
was not a total rejection of American lifeways and values. The rebels 
of the twenties drifted in and out of bohemias like Greenwich Village 
or the Left Bank of Paris or Chicago's Near North Side, which was 
only in its bohemian beginnings, but they did not think of bohemia as 
a slum or of poverty as a voluntary act of dedication. If they shacked 
up with a flapper it may have looked like "flaming youth" to the news 
paper sensation-mongers, but to themselves it was romantic love in the 
grand manner, beautiful and tragic Romeo and Juliet were their 
models, and Paolo and Francesca and not, decidedly not, the casual 
"cool" affair it is to the hipsters and the beat of today. Jazz music was 
known to the youth of the twenties but it was not the cult it is today; 
it was not what it has come to be among the beat, a way of life. 

In the thirties, if Tanya had been an adult, she would have come 
into the Communist movement with fewer misgivings and it would 
have taken her longer to see through the rationalizations of the Mos 
cow-dominated American Communist party line. She would have had 
some experience at working for a living, and her class consciousness 
would have been more than a catch phrase in a party pamphlet. As a 
second generation radical, Tanya was something of an exception to the 
general run of YCL youngsters of the early thirties. For one thing, she 
was sixteen. Most of the YCL youth were in their twenties and so many 
of them stayed on into their thirties and longer that the epithet 
"the bearded youth" came to be a private joke in Young Communist 
circles. The Tanyas of the period would not have been "deviationists." 
When the defections began after the Hitler-Stalin pact in 1939, it was 
not the Young Communists who split with the party; it was the men 
and women in their forties who had made many personal sacrifices for 
the cause and had the scars to show for it, people who felt let down 
and sold out, people like Tanya's father. Those who were in their 
teens and twenties at the time moved from the Hitler-Stalin pact into 
the "united front" forties and without any feeling of being let down 
by Moscow or sold out by collaboration with bourgeois democratic 
parties. When their leaders urged them to join the Democratic party 
and take the oath of allegiance to the Constitution and salute the flag 



LOST GENERATION, ETC. 265 

in the newly formed "clubs" that replaced the old party cells, they did 
it without any feeling of hypocrisy. The Marxist alienation of the thir 
ties was an anti-Fascist movement. It was not confined to Communists 
but cut across all party lines from Left to Right, drawing its adherents 
from all classes. Its archfiends were Hitler, Mussolini and, later, Tojo, 
and its most articulate spokesmen were Marxists, who gave the genera 
tion of the thirties its coloring. 

In the forties the generation that went into the boot camps and 
the foxholes of World War II was an alienated generation, even though 
it remained for the most part untouched by Marxist influence. New 
Deal liberals in their propaganda, official and unofficial, made it sound 
Hke a crusade to save the American Way of Life (which in the mouths 
of the home front heroes of radio, lecture platform and political oratory 
became a crusade to save mother's apple pie from Hirohito's "little 
brown monkeys"), but to the young men on the firing line it was an 
unpleasant job to be gotten over and done with, as anyone old 
enough to remember World War II years knows very well. Here was 
a generation that came home not only to a world it never made but 
to one which it hadn't even begun to live in. The Welfare legislation 
of the New Deal with its safety valve provisions against unemploy 
ment, the medical features of the GI insurance policies, the FHA 
building loans and other such measures helped to soften the hardships 
of a generation that was four to ten years late with its job experience 
and its schooling. And the GI bill helped to take some of the steam 
out of the boiling discontent that might otherwise have exploded into 
violence. But for all that, this was a generation whose sensibilities had 
been calloused against economic promises and patriotic slogans. It was 
alienated from the flag-waving, schoolmarm, pollyanna values of hun- 
dred-per-cent Americanism to an extent that shocked even the liberals 
themselves, so mezmerized had they become with their own patriotic 
oratory. 

The veteran of World War II was a tough customer. He knew his 
lost years were gone forever, but he demanded everything in the way 
of compensation that he could squeeze out of the politicians and the 
war-profiteering millionaires, and he wasn't the least bit humble about 
it. He scarcely bothered to conceal or disguise his contempt for the 
American Legion's rah-rah boys of World War I. He either refused to 
join or he formed his own veterans organizations, organizations that 



266 THE HOLY BARBABIANS 

imitated none of the clowning antics of the old Legion but talked tur 
key to Washington when it came to veteran's benefits, in plain lang 
uage and without any heroic flourishes. When the Cold War heated 
up into the brush fire "police action" in Korea, his answer to the call 
to arms was a cold "include me out." It was not a noisy resistance, just 
a stony, stubborn No. 

These are just a few of the differences between the generations. For 
a fuller understanding of why the beat generation is far from the 
"same old rebellion/ 7 let's look back at the twenties. 

"Children no longer obey their parents 
and everybody is writing a book" 

I don't remember any more who wrote it it was probably one of 
those quips that H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan used as fillers 
in The Smart Set sometime between 1914 and 1924. It purported to be 
something culled from a Babylonian clay tablet or is this something 
my imagination has added? and it read: "These be parlous times. 
Children no longer obey their parents and everybody is writing a 
book." I clipped it out and it kicked around in my files for years till 
it vanished into the limbo where all good clippings go if you move 
around too much or file things away too efficiently. Anyway, it stuck 
in my memory (in a form that will probably surprise its author if he 
should chance upon it here). It stuck with me because it expresses in 
a clever way the notion that "all younger generations are alike," a no 
tion that is cherished by most grownups who have "settled down" and 
are having problems with their offspring. Older people, faced with a 
rebellious and disrespectful youth, like to tell themselves that all new 
generations are the same "I was just like that myself when I was 
their age" that it is only a symptom of the growing pains of the 
young, that they will settle down in due time, and that, as the French 
platitudinarians put it, the more things change, the more they are 
the same. 

That things do change, and people with them, is something the late 
Frederick Lewis Allen spent much of his life in documenting. His 
book Only Yesterday is filled with proof of it and it covered only 
the first thirty years of the century. Twenty years later in an article 
in the August 10, 1952, issue the mass-circulation newspaper supple- 



LOST GENERATION, ETC. 267 

ment This Week, under the title "My, How You've Changed!" Allen 
bore down once more on the astonishingly swift changes which he 
had described in detail in his book and then went on to sum up the 
half century with the mellow observation that the material progress 
was sufficient compensation for the admitted anxieties of the present 
and fears for the future. "Even when we take all our dangers and 
uncertainties into account/* Allen concluded, "these are pretty exciting 
days for Americans to be alive in." 

A tireless and entertaining chronicler of American lifeways on the 
newspaper and "quality magazine" level he was on the editorial 
staffs, successively, of The Atlantic Monthly, The Century and Harper's 
Monthly Allen made no pretense of probing very far beneath the 
surface of the changing mores and manners of the half century. The 
more obvious documentable "facts" are all there. The portion of Only 
Yesterday, for example, which deals with the twenties ("The Revolu 
tion in Manners and Morals") catalogues the period with the complete 
ness of a newspaper clipping morgue and moves before the mind's eye 
like a movie montage, but the news is slanted and the camera eye is 
focused on precisely those items which the press of the period singled 
out for news coverage, and which have ever since remained the "offi 
cial" picture of "the Roaring Twenties." It is the picture that Frederick 
Lewis Allen saw in the news clippings. It is the way the twenties 
looked to a quality magazine staffer whose views were based more on 
reading than experience or participation. 

In his preface to the paperback edition of Only Yesterday which 
was published in 1957, Allen set down some interesting afterthoughts. 

In the original preface I wrote, "One advantage the book will 
have over most histories: hardly anyone old enough to read it can 
fail to remember the entire period with which it deals." That is 
emphatically no longer true. Many of you who will read it now 
cannot personally recall even the end of the period. And therefore 
I should confess that in the effort to highlight the trends of the 
nineteen-twenties and to enliven the book I illustrated some of 
these trends with rather extreme, though authentic, examples of 
odd or excited behavior. These may mislead you in case you 
cannot check such examples against your personal recollections 
into thinking that everybody must have been a little crazy during 
the nineteen-twenties. If so, will you please take my word for it 



268 THE HOLY BABBARIANS 

that one could gather just such preposterous examples of American 
behavior today (a selection of some of the wilder comments on the 
atomic bomb, for instance); that in my humble opinion people in 
the nineteen-twenties were on the average just about as normal 
and reasonable as they are today; and that, in short, the period 
was not conspicuously sillier than any other, but simply silly in 
somewhat different ways? Whether the human race gains in wis 
dom as time goes by is uncertain; the one thing we can be sure of 
is that its absurdities take changing forms. 67 

We have Allen's word for it that the examples of "extreme behavior" 
he used to illustrate the trends of the twenties were authentic. He had 
the newspaper clippings to prove it, and the magazines and the books, 
In a later book, The Big Change, which was published in 1952, he ad 
mits it was a scissors-and-paste job, as far as his sources are concerned: 

During the years 1930 and 1931, when I had been at work on 
Only Yesterday, an informal history of the United States in the 
nineteen-twenties, my best sources had been the daily papers and 
magazines of the period; the books of reportage or appraisal which 
I really needed to consult could have been ranged on a single shelf. 68 

In 1930, when he was at work on Only 'Yesterday, Allen was forty 
years old. The youth of the twenties might have been his own sons 
and daughters. They were a younger generation, as far as he was con 
cerned, yet he seems to have gone to every source but the one living 
source from which he might have learned something about this gen 
eration of the twenties: the young people themselves. If the examples 
of their behavior which he gave were "extreme" in his own view a 
quarter of a century later, it is because they were extreme from the 
start. In other words, they were "newspaper stories," an expression 
that I find myself enclosing in quotation marks because that is the 
tone in which the phrase is uttered by every intelligent person today 
"just newspaper stories." If they later seemed like absurdities to Allen, 
it was because they were selected for their absurdity by the newspaper 
and magazine editors who printed them in the first place those that 
weren't contrived by enterprising reporters and posed by news photog 
raphers, as many of them were. They were as true as they needed to 
be for the purpose they were intended to serve to titillate the sen- 



LOST GENERATION, ETC. 269 

sation-hungry yokels that newspaper publishers have always imagined 
their readers to be, and to stimulate circulation in order to justify 
rising space rates on advertising. 

I bear down on the sources of Allen's Only "Yesterday because it 
became the "accepted" account of the twenties, a kind of official 
history. In 1932 it was issued by Harper in a college text edition, it 
went through twenty-two printings of the original hardcover edition 
and into several paperback reprints. And today, nearly three decades 
later, it is still being used as a source book on the period by schools 
and editorial offices, and is widely used, chiefly in journalistic circles, 
to document the thesis that today's beat generation is nothing more 
than a carbon copy of the "flaming youth" generation of the twenties, 
that "it's the twenties all over again/' Such superficial thinking leads 
to new journalistic absurdities, as "authentic" as the absurdities Allen 
found in the press of his day. 

"The Roaring Twenties Roar On" 

Ever since Frederick Lewis Allen pasted up his collage of the twen 
ties from newspaper clippings, the newspapers have been rewriting 
his book to create more clippings for other books based on clippings. 
This ludicrous process has been going on for nearly three decades, but 
it remained for Newsweek to dish up for its readers what will probably 
be for a long tune the pidce de resistance of this kind of journalistic 
hash. In a feature story titled "The Generation That Won t Die," with 
a full-color cover depicting, collagelike, the young Lindy with his 
"Spirit of St. Louis" plane, a copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beauti 
ful and Damned, a dancing redhead doing the Charleston in an above- 
the-knees sheath dress, Rudy VaUee with his megaphone, and Negro 
fingers on a saxophone, the editors managed to crowd into some 
thing less than four pages a rewrite of Allen's Only Yesterday, slanted 
to make it look as if the history of the twenties was re-enacting itself 
in the generation of the late fifties. 

The opening lines of the article, purporting to be a characteristic 
contemporary dialogue between father and son, deserve to be rescued 
from the clipping morgues. They could go straight into the New 
Jorker as one of those filler quotes under some such caption as REAL 
LIFE SCENE THAT WE DOUBT EVER GOT SEEN OB HEABD. 



270 



THE HOLY BARBABIANS 



Scene: A living room somewhere in the U. S. Time: This week. 
Father, aged 50, is reading his paper. Enter his son, aged 20, 
whistling. 

FATHER: Please stop that infernal . . . say, isn't that "Yes, Sir, 
That's My Baby?" 

SON: That's right, pop. It's a new hit. 

FATHER: New hit! Your mother and I won a Charleston contest 
in 1926 dancing to that "new hit/* 

SON: I keep forgetting the Charleston goes back that far. Sort 
of like the minuet, isn't it? 

FATHER: (bitterly): Oh, sure. Just like the minuet. (Dreamily.) 
Ill never forget that night. Of course, we'd had a couple 
of shots from my hip flask, and . . . (Enter mother.) 

MOTHER: I think that will be quite enough of that. 

FATHER: Ahem. Was there something on your mind, son? 

SON: I was going to ask if I could wear that old raccoon coat 
of yours to the game next Saturday. 

FATHER: If your mother hasn't thrown it out, you can. 

SON: Thanks a lot. It'll be a gasser with my new bowler hat. 
(Exit, whistling "Me and My Gal.") 

FATHER: (to Mother): You haven't thrown it out, have you? 

MOTHER: Of course not, dear. You were wearing it the first time 
I met you. You were my blind date, remember? And it 
was the only time I ever saw Red Grange. 

FATHER: Ah, Red Grange. Ah, raccoon coats. Ah, the Charles 
ton . , . 

BOTH: Ah, the 20's! (He takes her tenderly by the waist; exeunt, 
Black Bottoming.) 

That noise you just heard was the beat generation applauding 
the Zen Buddhist "sound of one hand clapping." 

As any novelist knows who has ever invented a sadistic, potbellied, 
lecherous, bribe-taking ward politician named J. Makepiece Whiffle- 
dripper, only to find himself being sued for libel and defamation of 
character by a sadistic, potbellied, lecherous, bribe-taking ward politi 
cian by the name of J. Makepiece Whiffledripper, it is always risky to 
assume that any kind of a person, however contrived he may appear 
to be in print, does not exist. This Newsweek writer's Father and Son 



LOST GENERATION, ETC. 271 

might conceivably exist somewhere in the contemporary scene, perhaps 
in one of those exurbias populated exclusively by gag writers, fashion 
designers, advertising men, press agents and news magazine staffers. 
In any case, I can assure the reader that if Son ever showed up in 
beat generation circles in his raccoon coat and bowler hat, the cool 
cats would give him such a frigid reception that he would freeze to 
death in his fur benny. I suspect that the Newsweek writers who 
cooked up this story were taken in by press releases from some raccoon 
fur association and some hard-pressed hatmakers and a too credulous 
attention to some Paris-by-way-of-Hollywood press clippings from the 
fashion pages of the women's magazines. 

Following this Father and Son bit, the rest of the Newsweek story 
was the usual scissors-and-paste job on the twenties Greenwich Vil 
lage, Edna St. Vincent Milky, the young Eugene O'Neill, the little 
theaters, Prohibition and the speak-easies, pocket flasks, F. Scott Fitz 
gerald, Flaming Youth, Clara Bow the "It" girl, Charles Lindbergh, 
Al Capone, Gertrude Ederle, Jack Dempsey, Red Grange, Bobby Jones, 
Bill Tilden, Graham McNamee, Mary Pickford, Rudolph Valentino, 
Charley Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Elinor Glyn, the Stock Market 
Boom, Dr. Cou6, Leopold and Loeb, Clarence Darrow, Bryan and the 
Scopes "monkey trial," jazz, George Gershwin, Hemingway, Jimmy 
Walker, John Held, Jr/s cartoons, climbing hemlines it was all there, 
and all of it slanted to convey the notion that "in 1958, with its 
anxieties and uncertainties, the 20's suddenly have become a Golden 
Era, not only to the oldsters who lived through it, but to the youngsters 
who can only guess what it was like. . . Maybe the depression was the 
deserved hangover that followed the 20's glorious spree. But the spree 
lawless and irresponsible though it might have been - had still been 
glorious to many of those who lived through it. It produced some 
wonderful times and some wonderful people great creative artists, 
great athletes, great heroes and that is the way they remember it 
and always will remember it. And that is the way, apparently, that it 
looks to the present generation/' 70 

Nowhere in this idyllic picture of Mom and Pop black-bottoming 
back to the Golden Era of the twenties, with Son off to the football 
game in Pop's old raccoon coat and the new-old bowler hat that is the 
rage now to meet his girl in a sack dress that is "a first cousin, if not 



272 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

closer, to the tubular sheath that the flapper of the 20*s wore" tins 
picture of "the present generation" nowhere is there any mention 
of a beat generation. 

The nostalgia of the oldsters for the good old boom days of the 
twenties is Newsweek's special and exclusive contribution to the dec 
ades-old stereotype. Otherwise it is all of a piece with the handling 
that the press has given the beat generation story. This being the 
case, it may be advisable to take Mr. Allen's advice and check his 
story against my own personal recollections of the twenties which Mr. 
Allen did not include among his sources. 

The Democratization of Amorality 

Ever since World War I the leveling out of class distinctions, a 
process that is traditional in the United States, has been proceeding 
with accelerated speed. This is a trend that has been amply docu 
mented by historians of political and social history. Mr. Allen takes 
note of it in his books but chiefly on the level of clothing fashions and 
other such superficialities. If he had carried it a bit further he would 
have discovered that deeper cultural changes can be illuminated by 
reference to this leveling process, that graphed on paper it traces a 
steadily rising curve that is unbroken, except temporarily in pace and 
intensity, by war and peace, action or reaction. Examined closely and 
in detail from year to year and recalled as we have experienced it in 
living, it presents the classical historic picture of a rising class taking 
over the mores of a declining class, in this case the middle class taking 
over the mores of the American upper class. 

What concerns us here is not the economic or political changes 
brought about by this trend but the cultural changes. Wealth and the 
economic and political power it brings with it are the foundations on 
which a ruling class maintains its position in a class society, but it is 
the culture of the group, its lif eways particularly its special privileges 
and prerogatives that identify the members of the group to one 
another and mark them as apart and above other groups. The virtues of 
a class and by virtues I mean here those mores and lifeways which 
are prescribed and sanctioned by the larger group, the "civilization" 
to which all classes presumably belong are not usually the most 
prized of its characteristics because they are not exclusive to it. It is 



LOST GENERATION, ETC. 273 

the vices of a class and here again I use the word in the broad, 
"accepted" sense -that the class prizes most and guards most jealous 
ly. And rightly so, for it is the vices, not the virtues, which require 
money, leisure, social immunity and often legal immunity. It is the 
vices which mark an upper class as a privileged class. 

Churchgoing, patriotism, legal mating, legitimate childbearing, re 
spect for parents, obedience to law and order, observance of the rules 
of common decency these were virtues that the middle class shared 
with the rich, as a matter of principle if not always in practice. Even 
almsgiving was a shared virtue, although admittedly the rich could 
indulge in it on a larger scale than the middle class. But when it came 
to the vices - not the petty vices but the big, juicy vices, like support 
ing a kept woman, fathering a bastard child (mothering one was an 
other matter), destroying private property with relative impunity, say, 
in a rowdy hotel party or a swank saloon, going on wild joy rides in 
the country, sneaking off for a lost week end to a love nest at a moun 
tain hideaway or seaside resort, or on a "moral holiday" to Paris - 
these were vices that belonged exclusively to the upper classes, if 
only because they were expensive ones that only the rich could afford. 
This is not to say that all the rich availed themselves of such privileges, 
but they were always possible. If the founder of a fortune frowned on 
them, preferring to devote the best years of his life to larger but less 
conspicuous vices like plundering the natural resources, raiding the 
stock market in private behind-the-scenes deals, bribing public offi 
cials floating fraudulent stock issues or ruining competitors by finan 
cial mayhem or legal murder, there was usually a son and heir and 
sometimes an heiress, who elected to avail himself or herself of the 
purple privilege of expensive hell-raising on a more personal level. 

The middle class, too, had its vices and so did the working class on 
aH wage levels, but they were vices patterned on tie resources and 
special moral values of their class, the vices of their virtues so to - 
speak These stratifications began to dissolve during and after World 
War I The Wanderjahr of travel on foreign soil, where a young man 
could sow his wild oats in discreet anonymity, had been the privilege 
of the upper-class scion. Now it was, for the first time in American his 
tory within the experience of any young man in the armed services 
who got overseas. Or any young woman who enlisted for the nursing 
services. War wages and the greater mobility afforded by the automo- 



274 THE HOLY BAEBABIANS 

bile combined to make it easier than ever before to break home ties. 
Breaking with family and the home town makes it easier to break 
through class behavior, through both the virtues and the vices of the 
class. To be as good as the upper classes you have to be as bad as 
the upper classes and get away with it, as they do. What was taking 
place in the twenties was a denwcratization of amoraHty downward 
through all classes of society, but it was most noticeable on the middle- 
class level and most publicized since the middle class was tradi 
tionally the home base of Anglo-Saxon Christian morality and the 
showcase of everything that was nice and respectable in the lifeways 
of America. 

From a Rural to an Urban Morality 

Parallel to the trickle-down process of upper-class vices, another 
curve can be traced: the transition from a rural to an urban morality. 
Here the automobile, improved highways, the motion picture and 
the radio were the chief factors, plus the European war experience, 
since this was an experience shared by young men and women from 
the farms and small towns as well as from the cities. In the year 1900 
there were only 13,824 automobiles in the United States, and they 
were owned chiefly by the rich and the well to do. By 1919 there were 
6,771,000 registered passenger cars, most of them, I suspect, in the 
bigger population centers. In the early twenties, when I hitchhiked 
back and forth across the country, car traffic was largely city-to-city. 
The short-haul lifts I got were nearly always in old rattletrap cars 
owned by small-town and farm people. There were still a great many 
farm wagons on the roads, especially on the dirt roads off the rela 
tively few paved highways. 

Other young men and women of my acquaintance, with literary and 
artistic aspirations and interests, were going to Paris for the "expatri 
ate" experience, but I decided to "See America First/' This journey was 
made possible, not by affluent parents or a rich uncle my father had 
died when I was in my early teens, leaving nothing but a five-hundred- 
dollar life insurance policy but by the high wages (twenty-five dol 
lars a week) that commercial art studios were paying to talented 
young apprentices, enabling me to amass a traveling fund of fifty 
dollars after a year's work. A decade earlier the nest egg, if a boy of 



LOST GENERATION, ETC. 275 

my age and circumstances had been able to accumulate it at all, would 
probably have gone to buy an engagement ring or help pay off the 
mortgage on the family homestead. In the early twenties it was de 
rigueur m my "set" to head for Paris on a cattle boat or hit the open 
road with a copy of Leaves of Grass in one s knapsack. Yes, knapsack 
and a pair of overalls, artfully dirtied-up for the occasion, and, since 
it was summertime, no hat. Old Walt Whitman had worn his hat as 
he pleased, "indoors or outdoors." But by the twenties the emancipated 
young men had already launched the long vendetta against headgear 
that by the fifties was to send the hatmakers scurrying to Madison 
Avenue for consumer motivation studies and advertising campaigns 
to save their vanishing industry. Brought up in a big city, Chicago, I 
would have to know, if I intended to be a writer, how the other half 
lived, the half which, in 1920, still lived on farms and in villages. 

It didn't take me long to find out that the overalls were a mistake. 
Trying to keep from looking like a city slicker, I only succeeded in 
looking like a rube act. The country girls had nothing against city 
slickers, I discovered. I sent home for my one good suit I had to for 
get my avant-garde distaste for hats and invest a buck fifty in a straw 
kelly. They had caught fleeting glimpses of the rich flashing by at 
forty miles per hour! on the highways in their merry Oldsmobiles, 
and they knew that the proper summer headdress was a straw hat. I 
was hitchhiking but the girls were prepared to overlook that if I 
played the city swell on my dates with them. Morally they expected the 
worst from me and strove cunningly to bring it out. The girls I dated 
had sat oggle-eyed in the movie houses before the spectacle of the 
big-city rich boy wining and dining the poor little working girls and 
leaving behind him a trail of greenbacks, empty bottles and broken 
hearts, and they knew what to expect. This was a very different thing 
from the old skinflint rich of the "Opry House" melodramas who had 
no vices worth imitating. These were young men who sowed their 
wild oats, not in faraway places among foreigners, who were probably 
pagans or papists anyway, but right here at home, defying conventions 
and flouting High Society for the sake of true love. And if they finally 
left the poor working girl in tears, well, she had lived, hadn't she, while 
it lasted? and wasn't that better than never having lived, really lived, 
at all? Who could tell when some rich city boy might come along 
maybe hitchhiking just for the hell of it and rescue them from the 



276 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

only "fate worse than death" that was left for the young girl in the 
twenties: being left to marry and settle down with the boy next door 
in a one-horse town or, worse, on a farm fifty miles from nowhere. In 
every small town I hit during those days there was always someone to 
assure me that it was "the ass-hole of the world." Sinclair Lewis wasn't 
telling them anything they didn't know about the Gopher Prairies of 
America. 

The big city was the golden goal It was a relative thing. In Chicago 
we yearned for New York; in Omaha, I found, they were yearning for 
Chicago. In Lincoln, Nebraska, they yearned for Omaha. Sometimes 
they took it that way, by stages, and when they had had their fill of 
New York, some who were harder to satisfy made the golden journey 
to Paris. But the picture they cherished was the same everywhere: 
the big city was the place where you could realize yourself and let 
yourself go, by which they invariably meant sexual fulfillment. Some 
how the notion of financial fulfillment was tied in with it, so that it 
added up to the rags-to-riches Cinderella story of the American Dream, 
with the big city as the palace and the rich boy as the prince. By the 
middle twenties the stock market ticker was beginning to look like the 
fairy godmother, and by the late twenties only a few prophets of 
doom ventured to assert that the golden coach would ever turn back 
into a pumpkin again. It was all one big royal ball and midnight would 
never come. 

This was the city view, of course. In the small towns and on the 
farms it was just a shining vision of far places that could be glimpsed 
from time to time on the silver screen and on the higjiways where the 
city rich went streaking by, en route from love nest to love nest, as 
they imagined it, or in a momentary, but heady, encounter at the 
local gas station where these fabulous creatures sometimes stopped 
long enough to leave behind a whiff of perfume and a flash of two- 
figure folding money. 

Even in towns as big as Omaha I found girls who thought I must be 
rich because I came from Chicago. It couldn't have been only the blue 
serge suit and the straw hat that did it. It was the big city in this 
case the bigger city fantasy. Cities were growing fast while small 
towns were remaining static and farm population was dwindling. Fast 
growth plays a large role in the fantasies of the young, and bigness has 
always been a virtue in the American dream everything that is first, 



LOST GENERATION, ETC. 277 

/ 

biggest, fastest, tallest, richest a worship of superlatives that by the 
forties was to make a word like colossal almost a term of belittlement; 
everything had to be super or nothing. 

I remember Omaha particularly because of Marilee. The name was 
a compound of Mary and Lena, both too old-fashioned-sounding for 
an aspiring young girl of the twenties, but if you ran them together 
into Marilee you had something that felt right, more in character with 
what she hoped she looked like, a name that would sound better than 
Mary or Lena on the lips of the young Lochinvar who would come 
someday out of the East nobody expected him to come out of the 
West in those days; Hollywood wasn't the magnet yet that it became 
later. 

Marilee had "It." I was "It." "It" had many uses. "It" had been pro 
moted from a pronoun to a noun and it meant we didn't bother to 
define it; we knew what it meant; it meant everything we wanted it 
to mean, everything we were making it mean, which is just about the 
way today's hipsters feel about words like "hip" or "cat' % or "dig." 

We met on the street by the eye-to-eye-follow-stop-follow-stammer- 
and-pair-up routine, and an hour later we were on a park bench going 
through the feel-up ritual. There was too much lamplight and too much 
foot traffic around for anything more serious. It was one of those little 
block-square city parks. So we ended up that first night in one of those 
hot, moist, kiss-and-rub rassles, around the corner from her home so 
that no parental eye might spot us from under a lowered window 
shade. A first act without a proper climax, but the verbal fantasy had 
already begun. I had caught on quick to the idea that Marilee wanted 
me to be the rich young man from the big city, scion of an old eastern 
family that wanted me to go into Dad's business, which was okay with 
me except that I was bent on having my fling first and sowing some 
wild oats before I settled down with who else but a poor but beauti 
ful small-town girl with plenty of "It" I had run into on one of my joy 
rides across the country and fallen in love with at first sight and was 
determined to bring back to the old mansion with me and marry in 
grand style despite "family objections" and the snobs of High Society, 
all of which would soon melt, of course, under the magic of her 
charm; and if it didn't there was always the other way a romantic 
elopement, maybe Paris, Rome, hell, the South Sea Islands, if need be, 
for this was 1923 and everything was possible because love conquers 



278 THE HOLY BAEBABIANS 

all BUT and this was the implicit fourth act of the play which was 
not even to be mentioned but simply understood between us the 
Prince would vanish one day soon and everything would be back to 
where it was before, till the next blue serge suit and straw hat came 
along, for after all, it was make-believe. But meanwhile there had been 
those wild, wonderful nights in the park, the big park this time, on the 
outskirts of town where it was dark and private, and the inevitability 
of that unmentionable fourth act to come had made it all the more 
urgent and orgiastic and touched with the sweet sadness of all great 
and tragic loves. . . . 

And so we parted. I knew nothing about Marilee and she knew 
nothing about me, nothing about parents or friends, not even about 
nationality, except what we could vaguely guess. I wasn't even sure 
she had given me her right age. If some snooping rooky cop had picked 
us up and hauled us off to the clink, we would have been material for 
another "flaming youth" story in the press. If she had gotten pregnant 
and fallen into the hands of a bungling abortionist and died, it would 
have been one more juicy crime story, a near-murder, with the smell 
of sex in it, something to view with alarm in an editorial. The only con 
traceptives we knew in those days were usually dispensed with by 
mutual consent after the first few fumbling attempts and who the 
hell cared any more on the second time around? So there were times 
when one had to send frantic telegrams WIBE FIFTY WILL EXPLAIN 
LATER to parents or friends, who didn't need any explanations; fifty 
dollars was the standard price if it was to be anybody except some 
hole-in-the-wall quack abortionist with dirty hands and not even a 
bogus medical certificate. 

There had been no joy rides with Marilee in fast cars, and no jazz, 
except in the original elementary sense in which the word was still 
being used in the early twenties. Nothing flamed except the headlines 
if you were unlucky enough to get caught and nothing roared ex 
cept the voices from the pulpit. Jazz music, by the way, was not 
heard outside of cities like New Orleans, Kansas City, Chicago and 
New York. And even in these cities nobody except the jazz musicians 
themselves, and a few students of the subject, knew real jazz when 
they heard it Everybody else thought Irving Berlin was a jazz com 
poser and Alexander's Ragtime Band was jazz music. 

Newspaper reporters used the word as if they were smuggling a sly 



LOST GENERATION, ETC. 279 

piece of pornography into print, along with words like black bottom. 
They had a vague idea that there were Negro musicians in New 
Orleans, but when they thought of New Orleans it was Negro whore 
houses they were thinking of and gamblers and pimps and razor 
fights. It was all very "colorful" and made good copy, so they tied it in 
with youngsters dancing the Charleston, with flappers and petting par 
ties and speak-easies, all under the general heading of the Jazz Age, 
very much as reporters are now doing with Rock and Roll. Most of it 
was made up out of whole cloth, dreamed up at the city room type 
writer, a product of booze and prurience. It was closer to the night 
life and in many cases the workday life of the reporters themselves 
than it was to the lives of the young people they were supposed to be 
reporting on. Closer, that is, to the reporter's night life as he imagined 
it, not as it really was. I knew most of the men who were writing the 
stuff about the "flaming youth" on the Chicago newspapers in the 
twenties. Their love affairs were sentimental and sordid. Their taste in 
music ran to pop tunes. They never danced. Their thinking was sloppy 
and their journalism was of the slipshod, stub pencil variety that was 
later sentimentalized into a stereotype of the picaresque Front Page 
news hawk, a sonofabitch with a bleeding heart, whose veins by turns 
ran acid and angel milk. The original, as I remember him, ran more 
to beer and vomit. 

Their picture of the new generation of the twenties, such as it was, 
became Flaming Youth on the rampage in Warner Fabian's book of 
that name and in the movie that started the flapper cycle, the "It" pic 
tures. These journalists rendered a picture, a distorted one, of the 
city youth; not only the small-town or country youth, but rural youth, 
too, was caught up in the transition to an urban morality, or rather, 
amorality, and in imitation of the vices of the rich, though at a slower 
tempo. 

To Hell in a Basket in Slow Motion 

Small-town and farm morality among the youth of the twenties, 
what was it like? 

It was on a high level. There was practically no juvenile car theft. 
You had to be at least twenty years old before you were strong enough 
to crank a car, and by the time you got it started, the whole town was 
up and craning their necks at the windows. 



280 THE HOLY BARBAEJANS 

Sexual behavior was strictly controlled. Only girls of high school age 
were admitted into the basement after school hours for advanced in 
struction in posture and the French tongue. 

Attendance at community gang-shags was limited to those who had 
passed the test of double-dating performance. 

Subteen-agers were restricted to finger exercises. 

Nobody went steady if there was any reasonable choice in the mat 
ter. 

Boys were admittedly more active sexually than girls, which put 
something of a strain on the girls who were active. There was still a 
recognized distinction between nice girls and bad girls. The initial test 
was the first kiss. Nice girls held out for the third date. After that it 
was more a matter of anatomy than arithmetic. Starting at both ex 
tremities and working upward or downward toward the middle the 
ambidextrous had an advantage here it became a question of "how 
far you could go." Bad girls encouraged faster timing than nice girls 
and nice girls didn't "go all the way" unless there had been some 
serious talk of marriage. Engagement was the promissory note, and 
if it wasn't always honored in full on the due date, it was accepted as 
legal tender of honorable intentions and usually yielded at least a part 
payment in advance, an arrangement that was accepted by more 
parents than one would think to hear them tell it. 

They weren't really all like that, were they? They never are, of 
course. It is the active minority, the experimenters, the defiers of con 
ventionwhether in city, town or country who give a generation 
its characteristic tempo and direction. The rest drag along in the rear 
and are always one generation behind. In between are those who do 
and pretend they don't. 

In a small town in Illinois, for instance, I boarded briefly in a home 
where every night or two the daughter of the house entertained her 
boy friend upstairs in her bedroom. Sitting with Ma and Pa in the 
parlor I could hear the bed springs creak, but Pa read his paper and 
Ma did her knitting and everything was cozy. "Myrtle and Bill are 
engaged," Ma told me one day, apropos of nothing in particular. When 
I made it with Myrtle one day, as today's hipsters would say, she told 
me she had been engaged several times. Bill was her current steady 
and Ma and Pa thought it was all right as long as a couple was en 
gaged. In my case she was making an exception because I was a transient 



LOST GENERATION, ETC. 28J 

and not bound by the rules of the house, so to speak. They were 
nice people, regular churchgoers and well thought of in the commun 
ity. Myrtle rated as one of the nice girls. There were certain points of 
delicacy to be observed with Myrtle. I was never allowed to touch her 
breasts. Her breasts were reserved for her betrothed. All the rest was 
in the public domain. 

Some things were sacred, but not always the same things. In Penn 
sylvania I ran into a girl who'd make it with you anywhere except in 
bed. Bed was for holy wedlock. A farm girl near Goshen, Indiana, had 
persuaded herself that as long as she kept her eyes shut and didn't 
see "it" she was keeping her mind pure, and that was all that really 
mattered. A girl whose name I remember because it was Pearly Gates 
(that was her given name; she had a surname, too) told me that as 
long as she lay still and didn't help, it wasn't such a big sin. Her folks 
belonged to one of those evangelistic "holiness" religions. On our sec 
ond date she confided to me that she'd been making it with her old 
man ever since she could remember, just that way. It was he who had 
put the notion in her head. On the other hand I remember a beauti 
ful little Negro girl living on the outskirts of Louisville who thought 
she was practically a virgin because she was the only girl she knew 
who hadn't let her pappy get into her. She had heard a camp meeting 
preacher say that was "unnatural/' so she concluded that with anybody 
else it was just plain natural. Some girls thought it was more sinful 
with their clothes off, some with their clothes on. 

I encountered rebuffs, too, but they were not accompanied by the 
shocked indignation or hysterics that were recounted in the Victorian 
novels I had read, nor the face-slapping that my turn-of-the-century 
elders had told me of in describing their own youthful sex experi 
ences. The rebuffs I met with were regretful, sometimes almost apolo 
getic, at the worst a nervous laugh or a disdainful toss of the head. 
It wasn't Freud who had brought about this change in rural mores. 
Nobody I met at that time had ever heard of Freud. (Among the city 
young people, Freud was an influence, but even there only among the 
sexual avante-garde.) It was simply the way the small-town or country 
girl of the twenties imagined a rich girl might act. A rich girl was in a 
position to take it or leave it. If she took it she took it with relish and 
pagan abandon. If she turned it down she did it like a lady, not because 
she didn't want it. The rationalizations and provisos about purity, sin 



282 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

and sacredness were clearly hang-overs from tum-of-the-century Vic 
torian morality. In the cities, except among farm and small-town girls 
who had recently moved there, these hang-overs were rarely encount 
ered. 

Except in university towns, where town is influenced by gown, I 
found little of the intellectual and literary excitement among the 
young that was stirring in the cities. Those who were reading Sinclair 
Lewis, for instance, were usually literate people in their thirties. The 
new modem poetry was generally either unknown or disliked by the 
adults. A few young people could be found here and there who had 
come upon the new little thin volumes on occasional visits to Chicago 
or some other big city and brought them home, as earlier generations 
of venturesome Americans had once brought back paperback copies 
of Zola from Paris. These youngsters in places like Paris, Illinois, and 
Grand Island, Nebraska, were only waiting for a chance to light out 
for the big city. Til see you in Chicago one of these days" was 
always their wistful good-by, and some of them made it. They would 
show up one morning at the door of my Near North Side studio with 
a knapsack or a battered old wicker handbag containing a change of 
shirt and socks. Some were boys, some were girls they never came 
in pairs and they had the furtive, conspiratorial air of refugees. They 
had come to join the ranks of the young rebels who were the real 
"flaming youth" of the twenties, but whose story was not being told 
in the newspapers. 

The Holy Barbarians of the Twenties 

One reason why the beat generation of the fifties harks back to the 
literature of the twenties is because it finds a kinship there not the 
kinship of the raccoon coat and bowler hat but of the spirit of revolt 
that was blowing through the studios of Chicago's Near North Side 
and New York's Greenwich Village and all their tributaries scattered 
through the larger cities of the land, in declasse neighborhoods of St. 
Louis, Detroit, Baltimore, Boston and San Francisco where the man 
sions of the rich (who were moving into the suburbs) had been par 
titioned into one-room kitchenettes which the young rebels were con 
verting into studios. Here the democratization of amorality, the trickle- 
down process I have been describing as an imitation of the vices of the 



LOST GENERATION, ETC. 283 

rich, took a direct, literal form. These avant-garde bohemians took 
over not only the vices but the very houses o the rich and in not a 
few cases their women as well in fact, everything but their money, 
for they were not political revolutionaries, not in the obvious sense or 
in any organized way, which is another point of resemblance between 
them and the beat of today. 

We for I was one of them were expropriating from the upper 
classes the only things they had which we felt had any value for us: 
their leisure, their access to the arts to music, literature, painting 
their privilege of defying convention if they wanted to, of enjoying 
their vices and sinning with impunity. We had heard of the Commu 
nist Revolution in Russia and felt that the Czar and his secret police 
had it coming to them; after all, we had read Dostoevski, Chechov, 
Tolstoy. Some of us had read Marx and Engels. But we felt that all 
the Bolsheviks had succeeded in absorbing, so far, were the headaches 
of the ruling class, the manufacture of things, the production and dis 
tribution problems and the bookkeeping that went with it. We were 
expropriating the things of inner gratification and lasting value, and we 
were doing it without overthrowing the rich. We were bypassing them, 
going our own way and letting them stew in their own fleshpots. If any 
of their lovely young daughters or an occasional frustrated but well- 
preserved wife wanted to come over to our side that was all right, 
too. On our own terms, of course. They didn't have to bring any of the 
family money with them. The self, the inner self, was enough, and that 
meant body and soul. There was a lot of talk about the self, as there is 
today in beat generation circles, and it meant pretty much the same 
thing, an inner search for wholeness, i.e. holiness, instead of the soul- 
destroying pursuit of things, the Moneytheism of the plutocracy. .^ 

We were seeking relaxation from the pressures of the "success 
mania" of the boom years. We wanted the leisure that the rich wasted 
on vulgar orgies of conspicuous consumption (we had read our Veb- 
len), but we wanted it for the enjoyment of finer things. So we had 
to live by our wits most of the time, not having the money to finance 
any extended periods of leisure. We clerked in bookstores, did an occa 
sional hitch on the newspapers, took odd jobs of manual labor here 
and there, and tried house to house canvassing a lot of us got to see 
the country that way, selling magazine subscriptions, a kind of de luxe 
hoboing and, if all else failed, we took to dropping in on job-holding 



284 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

friends around dinnertime or pearl-diving (dishwashing) in restau 
rants. The hardest pill of all to swallow was having to go home or write 
home for money. Girls could get away with this better than boys, so 
if you were living with a girl it was usually she who made this final 
sacrifice of pride. Anything to prolong those precious weeks of leisure. 

Ours was not the dedicated poverty of the present-day beat We 
coveted expensive illustrated editions and bought them when we had 
the ready cash, even if it meant going without other things. We wanted 
to attend operas and symphony concerts, even if it meant a seat up 
under the roof in the last gallery or ushering the rich to their seats in 
the "diamond horseshoe." We had disaffiliated ourselves from the rat 
race we called it Secession, H. L. Mencken's word for it but we 
had not rejected the rewards of the rat race. We had expensive tastes 
and we meant to indulge them, even if we had to steal books from the 
bookstores where we worked, or shoplift or run up bills on charge ac 
counts that we never intended to pay, or borrow money from banks 
and leave our cosigners to pay it back with interest. We were no 
sandal and sweatshirt set. We liked to dress well, if unconventionally, 
and sometimes exotically, especially the girls. We lived perforce on 
crackers and cheese most of the time but we talked like gourmets, and 
if we had a windfall we spent the money in the best restaurant in town, 
treating our friends in a show of princely largess. 

These contradictions finally tripped us up, of course, and some of 
us went on into the lean thirties bitter and ready to join any move 
ment that held out a vision of Abundance and Plenty. Some, like F. 
Scott Fitzgerald, simply cracked up or sold out to the Bitch Goddess 
Success (if they could still find her around anywhere) or committed 
suicide in some unconventional but inexpensive way. 

To the girls it meant giving up bohemian boy friends and marrying 
the Good Provider with the coming of the Depression that meant 
almost anybody with a job and settling down to a life of quiet do 
mesticity. That was their sellout. To hear some of them tell it, it was 
their suicide. I remember girls of our circle who took this way out in 
the Depression thirties, only to run off for a Mexican divorce with an 
old flame from the twenties when the next wave of live-it-up fever 
came along in the wartime forties. Those, that is, who weren't trapped 
by multiple motherhood or hopelessly addicted to comfort and security. 

But while she was still young and pretty, the girl of my youth was 
a reckless trail blazer on the American scene. She had run away from 



LOST GENERATION, ETC. 285 

the ugly mission furniture, overstuffed sofas and brass beds and was 
applying a little of the taste and color and functional design that 
modern art, since the Armory Show, had been introducing into home 
decor. In her studio she replaced the brass bed with, a studio couch, 
and it stood in the living room, not in the bedroom. There wasn't any 
bedroom. All the living space was bedroom, where visitors could lie 
down and listen to music or make conversation civilized conversa 
tion, we liked to call it. And if the boy friend lay down beside her on 
the studio couch the arts of music and poetry became subtly inte 
grated with the art of love, a combination that may have been new to 
American lif eways but was part of the great tradition of all the hon 
ored civilizations of the past. It was certainly preferable to furtive 
backstairs fumblings and hit-and-run love-making. 

Together with such girls we brought candlelight back into home use 
and inexpensive art objects, wood carvings and copies of primitive 
sculpture and masks, and window drapes that were more tasteful than 
the machine-woven brocades and dust-catching plush that made the 
homes we had come from look like undertakers* parlors. If the solid 
citizens and citizenesses of the twenties said that a divan in the living 
room was an invitation to carnal dalliance well, that was the idea. 
We had brought sex out of the bedroom and made it an art worthy to 
share the living room with the books of Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood 
Anderson, T. S. Eliot, Anatole France and Remy de Gourmont on our 
homemade bookshelves, our Victor Red Seal Records and the abstracts 
and French impressionists on our walls color prints clipped from the 
art magazines, of course. 

Those of us who had been through the war, the Great War is the 
way it was billed at the time the numbering system that made it 
World War I was instituted almost before the guns stopped shooting 
saw it as a blinding barrage of atrocity stories accompanied by a flank 
attack of flattery. "America's Fighting Youth. . . . Save the World for 
Democracy. . . . The Great Crusade. . . . Remember the Lusitania! . . . 
The Yanks are Coming!" with kisses for departing soldiers and scowls 
for slackers and sly, winking promises of French mademoiselles, fol 
lowed by the brutal anticlimax of tihe trenches and the sickening hell 
of trial by battle and the blood and mud that is faked up with flags 
and God and Country in the war posters and glossed over with glory 
afterward in the grammar school histories. 

Let not the Communists or the ex-Communists of the thirties think 



286 THE HOLY BAEBABIANS 

we had any idea it was a war between rival imperialisms; nor the New 
Dealers of the forties think we were enemies of democracy; nor the 
religious anarchist beatniks of the fifties think we were wise to "the 
basic immorality of the State." It was to be years before we could read 
such books as Sir Arthur Ponsonby's Falsehood in Wartime or J. M. 
Read's Atrocity Propaganda or Sidney B. Fay's Origins of the World 
War or Harry Elmer Barnes's Genesis of the War. We knew nothing 
about Baron Hans von Wangenheim's Berlin mistress and the cover-up 
story he told Ms wife about helping the Kaiser cook up the wax at a 
fictitious Crown Council. Or why Lloyd George wanted to hang the 
Kaiser. All we knew, those of us who possessed a little sense and sen 
sitivity, was that there was a bad smell in the air, and instinctively 
we turned away from it 

The liberal historians and the "chroniclers" of the twenties, Allen 
among them, say we were shocked and disillusioned by the Treaty of 
Versailles and the failure to win the peace, and that this was one of 
the principal reasons why we went on a wild rampage in the twenties, 
whooping it up for Babe Ruth and Lucky Lindy, lushing up Prohibi 
tion gin and trying to find forgetfulness in the arms of flat-chested flap 
pers. Even if we pleaded guilty on all counts sure, there were some 
of us who did one or another of all the things they say we did; there 
were a lot of us and all kinds it would still not explain why the 
main currents of the time converged into a cynical contempt of the 
whole business civilization. For all its booming Prosperity, for all our 
seeming compliance and emulation of the rich man's vices, which we 
somehow succeeded, I think, in transforming into an orgastic affirma 
tion of life, we were parties to a paradox that I summed up in three 
lines of a poem at the time: 

If we acquiesce in all things? 

Do not be deceived; 
It is because we despise you. 

We were a minority of the younger generation of the twenties but 
we were the articulate part of it, saying and doing the things the others 
could give expression to only in an awkward and limited way. We 
were, as a group, no better educated than the others of our generation, 
as far as formal education is concerned. Many of us, including myself, 



LOST GE3NHERATION, ETC. 287 

were almost entirely self-educated. That meant simply that our teach 
ers were teachers we had selected from among the thousands who had 
written books on the subjects we wished to study, rather than teachers 
who happened to be on the faculties of high schools and universities we 
might have gone to. For no one is really self-educated. He is educated 
by the authors of the books he reads. I was systematic about my soli 
tary study. Others were desultory and sporadic, with periods of intense 
application and periods of loafing. I had my periods of loafing, like 
the rest, and I can report that whenever we did our loafing together, 
as we often did, it was not just time-wasting or sloth. It was loafing to 
"invite the soul," as Walt Whitman had recommended. Education, 
self -education and loafing to invite the soul in these respects it is 
we who have survived the twenties and gone through the further de 
velopment of the thirties and forties, it is we who, in turn, feel a kin- * 
ship with the beat generation of today. It is this which draws them to 
us, and it is this which makes it possible for us to understand, appre 
ciate and sympathize with them, better perhaps than those whose 
youth and young adulthood fell in the thirties and forties. 

Nevertheless, young people like Tanya Bromberger, Chris Nelson, 
Chuck Bennison, Itchy Gelden and Angel Dan Davies cannot be en 
tirely understood in the light of the twenties experience alone. It is 
necessary to take into account the experience of the thirties and forties. 

On the Road in the Thirties 

The Expatriation, with which the name of Henry James is asso 
ciated in its earlier phases and Ernest Hemingway and the Lost Gen 
eration writers in its post- World War I phases, was followed by the 
Secession, which recalls such names as H. L. Mencken, Malcolm Cow- 
ley, Sinclair Lewis, John Dos Passos and F. Scott Fitzgerald. After 
the crack-up the economic one, of which Fitzgerald's was only a 
personal example we witnessed an alienation of the Marxist variety. 

It was not something confined to card-carrying members of the 
Communist party, as the un-American committee witch-hunters later 
tried and failed to prove. It was the Secession of the twenties gone 
Left in the thirties. It marked the end of Mencken and the beginning 
of Marx as the patron saint of an emerging bohemia of the Left. When 
Mencken, sensing the change in the intellectual climate among his 



288 THE HOLY BAEBAEIANS 

followers, tried to laugh off the Depression and kept thumping his 
drum against the booboisie, the New Deal and the "fraud" of democ 
racythe notion, as he put it, that a million blockheads are wiser 
than one, that the voice of the people is the voice of God, and the 
Congressional Record is the Bible he found fewer and fewer people 
listening to him. The young college people who had been among his 
most faithful devotees now deserted him in droves. The highbrows of 
the twenties, broke and out of work, unloaded their first editions of 
Joseph Hergesheimer, Sinclair Lewis and James Branch Cabell onto 
the secondhand book dealers. Out went Mencken's own Damn A 
Book of Calumny along with the collection of anti-Mencken calumnies 
which he himself had collected under the title of Schimflexicon. By 
1933 a new alienation was in the making. It attracted to itself all sorts 
of rebels and far greater numbers than Menckenism had ever re 
cruited. The story of those rebels who joined "front" groups has been 
pretty well covered by now in the newspapers and magazines, on radio 
and the television screen. What the un-American committees failed to 
tell has been told by many of these joiners themselves in breast-beating 
confessions that leave them looking more like betrayed saints, more 
sinned against than sinning. But what has not been told is the story of 
the unaffiliated fellow-traveling bohemians, the beat generation of the 
thirties. 

They came from everywhere, from the Dust Bowl farms, from the 
boarded-up, bankrupt stores of the small towns, from shut-down factor 
ies in Detroit and Pittsburgh, from slums and hobo jungles and col 
lege campuses. They wore, not sandals, but work shoes, down at the 
heels and full of holes, and if they were bearded it was not by choice. 
They lacked the price of a shave, or they hadn't been near a hot- 
water tap and a cake of shaving soap for weeks. Soiled blue jeans, 
work shirt and lumber jacket made up the rest of the outfit, or, in the 
winter, a ragged overcoat, turtleneck sweater and ear muffs. For the 
girls it was bobbed hair, a holdover from the twenties, skirts and 
blouses and, if they belonged to the arty set, homemade peasant cos 
tumes. 

In Communist circles these young people were called The Youth 
and every effort was made to recruit them into the YCL. Some joined, 
or drifted in and out as their interest waxed and waned. But the 
bohemians among them remained too foot loose to be pinned down to 
any organized party work or too independent-minded to be held to a 



LOST GENERATION, ETC. 289 

party line. Youngsters in their teens and twenties, they would band 
together in some broken-down old mansion of the departed rich, but 
instead of partitioning the rooms into individual studios, as they would 
have done in the twenties, they lived together in a kind of free union 
that was their idea of a Russian commune. Those who happened to 
latch onto a job for a few weeks threw their earnings into a common 
fund for groceries and rent. The girls kept house when they were not 
out working, and the boys kept the place in repair and tinkered with 
the old jalopy which was their common conveyance. Everyone did his 
own laundry in the bathtub or the kitchen sink and the place always 
smelled of drying clothes in the winter and unwashed dishes all year 
round. It was "a free life." 

Free living and free love. The term was still in use among them, as 
it had been for decades among the Socialists who took their morals 
from Johann Most rather than from Karl Marx. Communist party offi 
cialdom frowned on it in public and winked at it in private and all in 
all it was a kind of underground morality that was never mentioned in 
open discussion or the party press. Among party members it was con 
sidered a private matter. Not till the New Deal united front was 
launched, to help save the world from nazism and fascism, did the 
sex life of party members come under strict party supervision, but that 
story belongs to the forties. During the thirties it was still an area of 
private choice, and any "scientific 77 support that the free-loving young 
sters of the period needed they found in Freud. Some were already 
dipping into the anthropologists, and a volume or two of The Golden 
Bough sometimes stood beside Das Kapital and Morgan's Ancient So 
ciety on the bookshelf. The kolkhoz was often built around somebody 
who owned a good library of anthropology, psychology, Socialist and 
Communist literature and the Russian novelists, together with well- 
thumbed copies of Jack London, Lincoln Steffens, Upton Sinclair, 
Theodore Dreiser and John Dos Passos. Girls who came to read often 
stayed to talk half the night and spend what was left of it in bed with 
the host or a boy friend. Others would join the group and there would 
be talk of "taking a place together," a house big enough to hold the 
books and provide sleeping room not necessarily private if available 
funds did not permit for two or three couples. I remember houses 
where as many as twelve or fifteen lived together in four or five rooms - 
during the worst days of the Depression. 

The word for it was "comrade," whether you belonged to the party 



290 THE HOLY BAKBAEIANS 

or not If a Leftist writer came to town to deliver a lecture, the houses 
vied with one another to entertain him as a house guest, and a girl 
comrade could always be found to offer Eskimo hospitality to the 
visitor. If the writer was famous enough there was often lively competi 
tion among the girl comrades for the honor. The Communist party 
committee on arrangements for a visiting party functionary sometimes 
called on the talents of these Bohemian girl comrades, much as a busi 
nessman on the make for a government defense contract in the forties 
might have drawn on female talent to help him sell a visiting general 
on the merits of his product and deducted the fee from his taxes as 
business expense under the heading of entertainment. In the former 
case, however, no money changed hands. It was purely a matter of 
love, or, if the girl comrade was a party member, of service in the 
line of duty. 

Clothing was shared among the girls of these "collective" houses, 
and sometimes the boys, too, shared articles of wearing apparel. You 
were supposed to ask, but if no one was around you helped yourself 
and thanked the owner for it afterward, but this was not obligatory. 
Evenings were spent in reading and discussion and week ends in party 
ing of a nonpolitical nature. If there was any music it was likely to be 
a folk-sing. Later in the decade the army songs of the Spanish Civil 
War, brought back by young veterans of the Lincoln Brigade, were 
sung on such occasions. Anyone who could sing The Four Insurgent 
Generals in Spanish was sure to be the life of the party. The highest 
compliment a girl of the kolkhoz could aspire to was to be nicknamed 
La Pasionata, after the beautiful and famous firebrand of the Spanish 
Loyalist Army. If Rhonda Tower or Barbara Lane had come of age in 
the thirties she could have found in this Leftist bphemia something of 
what she is now looking for. In the middle forties Barbara wouldn't 
even have had to leave Beverly Hills; she could have found it among 
the swimming pool proletariat of the Hollywood studios. 

The sincerity and sense of dedication among these young people of 
the thirties were as great as that of the beat generation of today. Life 
was free, but it was also earnest; love was free, but it was also pas 
sionately devoted while it lasted. There was no promiscuity in the 
bourgeois sense, except among girls who would have been promiscuous 
in any other environment. If a couple gave any sign of being "serious," 
nobody tried to cut in. If they decided to get married and wanted 



3LOST GENEBATTON, ETC. 291 

greater privacy, they could stay on in the kolkhoz and have the bed 
room if there was any. In some cases the house was organized by an 
older married couple, who thereafter acted as a kind of house mother 
and foster father to the single members. Some of the attachments 
formed in these houses lasted for years. Their loyalty to one another 
was strong, often to the point of self-sacrifice. 

Their attitude toward the Cossacks their term for the police was 
identical with that of the beat generation of today toward the "heat" 
They left their doors unlocked most of the time, just as the beat do in 
the pads of Venice and elsewhere. Their houses, however, were not 
confined to the slums by choice. Only by necessity. 

When the Federal Arts projects were established, the nonconformist 
minority of the generation of the thirties, that portion of it which be 
longed to the bohemian Left, got a taste of security on a very low 
level but a monthly paycheck none the less and were never satisfied 
afterward to shift for a living in the traditional bohemian fashion. They 
went into the forties as government agency clerks or took jobs in the 
defense plants in what was for them a common front against fascism. 
Some of the artists on the projects went on to the more ample pay 
checks of the advertising agencies where art is also a weapon in the 
war for the consumer dollar. Others got teaching positions in the art 
departments of the universities. A few, on the strength of their WPA 
murals, got cover assignments from Time and ended up as "artist in 
residence" at a university. Some of the writers managed to latch onto 
editorial jobs or become English instructors at the smaller colleges. A 
few of the girls on the drama and dance projects made good later on 
the strength of "sugar daddies," philanthropic grants and endowed 
"experimental groups." It was onward and upward with the arts all 
along the line. But bohemianism was a thing of the past for them. 

The United Front 

The period of World War II marked something like a truce on the 
cultural front For some, born around the turn of the century, those 
were the best years of their lives, the Golden Age of the Egghead. 
Antifascism was the official cause. The Pursuit of Happiness meant a 
radio program on which you heard Paul Robeson in a poem, Ballad for 
Americans, with music by a young minstrel in overalls, Earl Robinson 



292 THE HOLY BABBARIANS 

by name, who went around the country singing his compositions and 
accompanying himself on guitar or piano. Burl Ives was a ballad singer 
who could be heard on the radio in Robinson's The Lonesome Train, 
an elegy for Abraham Lincoln. (And, as it later turned out, for 
Franklin D. Roosevelt, at whose death it was heard almost uninter 
ruptedly for twenty-four hours on all the networks. ) Ballad singers in 
blue jeans sang at parties in the White House. The American Story 
was not the saga of Cash McCall or the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, 
but a thirteen-week serial in poetry by Archibald MacLeish, a poet, 
who was also Librarian of Congress. You could openly admit to being 
a Democrat and carry a book of poetry to work into a public building 
without arousing suspicion. If you were a postal employee you could 
even receive The "Nation through the mail without being questioned 
about it. Radio actors were not obliged to slip without so much as 
taking a breath from the big dramatic scene into the slick dramatic 
sell. The folk ballad was not yet a singing commercial with Burl 
Ives peddling flashlight batteries and "Satchmo" Armstrong singing 
the blues to boost beer sales. And the big moment of the week for 
eggheads, middlebrows and all but a few hard-to-please malcontents 
mostly pacifists and anarchists was the moment when you tuned in 
your CBS station and settled back to listen to one of Norman Corwin's 
or Arch Oboler's radio plays on the Columbia Workshop, "the theater 
of the mind, dedicated to man's imagination" without singing com 
mercials. 

It was not until the end of World War II and the GI bill in the late 
forties that the conditions once more existed for the emergence of a 
new generation of alienated nonconformists with anything like com 
mon characteristics and a recognizable direction. It was the beginning 
of the Disaffiliation. And once again it was the artists, chiefly the writ 
ers, who were the vanguard of the new alienation. It was no less than 
a secession from the business civilization itself. 



15 



The Social Lie 



"SlNCE ALL SOCIETY IS ORGANIZED IN THE INTEREST OF EXPLOITING 

classes and since if men knew this they would cease to work and so 
ciety would fall apart, it has always been necessary, at least since the 
urban revolutions, for societies to be governed ideologically by a sys 
tem of fraud." 

This is the Social Lie, according to Kenneth Rexroth. 

"There is an unending series of sayings which are taught at your 
mother's knee and in school, and they simply are not true. And all 
sensible men know this, of course/* 

Does the rejection of the social lie imply a rejection of the idea of 
a "social contract"? 

"This," says Rexroth, "is the old deliberate confusion between so 
ciety and the state, culture and civilization and so forth and so on. 
There was once a man by the name of Oppenheimer who was very 
popular in anarchist circles. He said the state was going to wither 
away in a sort of Utopia of bureaucrats who serve the state. And you 
are always being told that your taxes go to provide you with services. 
This is what they teach in school as social studies. There is nothing 
contractural about it. There is an organic relationship which has en 
dured from the time that man became a group animal and is as essen 
tial a part of his biology as his fingernails. That other thing, the state, 
is fraudulent. The state does not tax you to provide you with services. 

293 



294 THE HOLY B ABB ABIANS 

The state taxes yon to kill you. The services are something which it has 
kidnapped from you in your organic relations with your fellow man, 
to justify its police and war-making powers. It provides no services at 
all. There is no such thing as a social contract. This is just an eight 
eenth century piece of verbalism." 

And what of services like sanitation, water and, in some commun 
ities, also public utilities like gas and electricity? 

"These are not functions of the state at all. These are normal func 
tions of the community which have been invaded by the state, which 
are used by the state to mask its own actual activities, like the mask 
that the burglar wears. Conceivably a burglar could wear a mask of 
ITfm Novak but this doesn't mean he is Kim Novak, he is still a burg 
lar. The state has invaded and taken over the normal community rela 
tions of men. Now, it is true that if the state was suddenly to give this 
up today, people would probably go out and chop down all the trees 
in the national forests and kill all the bears in the national parks, catch 
all the fish in the rivers and so forth and so on. But this is due to six 
thousand years of exploitation and corruption by the state, not due to 
anything inherent in the community of man." 

In rejecting the social lie, what is the disaffiliate disaffiliating him 
self from? 

"He isn't disaffiliated from society, he is disafflliated from the social 
order, from the state and the capitalist system. There is nothing un 
usual about this. Its just that in America there is an immense myth 
which is promulgated by the horrors of Madison Avenue and Morning- 
side Heights, by the professors and the advertising men (the two are 
now practically indistinguishable), that intellectual achievement lies 
within the social order and that you can be a great poet as an adver 
tising man, a great thinker as a professor, and of course this isn't true. 
There happens to be a peculiar situation in literature due to the fact 
that literature and this is true of Russia too that literature is the 
thing that sells the ideology. After all, just as the scribe knew in an 
cient Egypt, writing and handling words is the thing that sells the 
ruling class to the ruled. So departments of English are particularly 
whorish. On the other hand, a philosopher like Pitrim Sirokin can say 
at a meeting of a philosophical association, of course we are operating 
on the assumption that politics attracts only the lowest criminal types 
he happened to be speaking of the president of the United States 



THE SOCIAL LIE 295 

"The entire pressure of the social order is always to turn literature 
into advertising. This is what they shoot people for in Russia, because 
they are bad advertising men." 

What is it, then, that holds the natural community of men together? 

"The organic community of men is a community of love. This doesn't 
mean that it's all a great gang fuck. In fact, it doesn't have anything to 
do with that at all. It means that what holds a natural society together 
is an all-pervading Eros which is an extension and reflection, a multi 
ple reflection, of the satisfactions which are eventually traced to the 
actual lover and beloved. Out of the union of the lover and the lover 
as the basic unit of society flares this whole community of love. 

"Curiously enough, this is Hegelianism, particularly the neo-Hegel- 
ians who are the only people who ever envisaged a multiple absolute 
which was a community of love. It is unfortunate that the Judaeo- 
Christian wrath of Marx and the Prussianism of Engels has so trans 
formed us that we forget that this is what lay back of the whole notion 
of the Hegelian absolute. But, irrespective of the metaphysical mean 
ings, this is what makes a primitive society work. The reason that the 
Zunis all get along together is that they are bound together by rays 
which are emitted from one lamp and reflected from one lamp to an 
other and these rays are ultimately traced back to their sources in each 
lamp in the act of the lover and the beloved. So the whole community 
is a community of lovers. This sounds very romantic but it is actually 
quite anthropological." 

To counter this cohesive social force the state employs the social lie. 

"The masters, whether they be priests or kings or capitalists, when 
they want to exploit you, the first thing they have to do is demoralize 
you, and they demoralize you very simply by kicking you in the nuts. 
This is how it's done. Nobody is going to read any advertising copy 
if he is what the Reichians call orgastically potent. This is a principle 
of the advertising copy writer, that he must stir up discontent in the 
family. Modem American advertising is aimed at the woman, who is, 
if not always the buyer at least the pesterer, and it is designed to create 
sexual discontent. Children are effected too there is a deliberate ap 
peal to them you see, children have very primitive emotional possi 
bilities which do not normally function except in the nightmares of 
Freudians. Television is designed to arouse the most perverse, sadistic, 
acquisitive drives. I mean, a child's television program is a real vision 



296 THE HOLY BARBABIANS 

of hell, and it's only because we are so used to these things that we 
pass them over. If any of the people who have had visions of hell, like 
Vergil or Dante or Homer, were to see these things it would scare 
them into fits. 

"But with the adult, the young married couple, which is the object 
of almost all advertising, the copy is pitched to stir up insatiable sexual 
discontent. It provides pictures of women who never existed. A guy 
gets in bed with his wife and she isn't like that and so he is discon 
tented all the time and is therefore fit material for exploitation." 71 

To avoid the pressures of advertising and the slanted propaganda 
of the State in the "news" pages and on the radio and television, the 
beat generation rarely buys newspapers or news magazines and rarely 
tunes in to radio or TV. With very few exceptions, all the young people 
I interviewed said they never read newspapers at all, glance at Time 
or Newsweek now and then, but only at the back of the magazine, 
passing up all the news, domestic and international. They all own 
radios but listen only to the jazz programs and an occasional newscast 
when something interesting is going on like the launching of a space 
rocket. The few who own television sets use them only to watch the 
two or three programs a month that offer adult shows, like "Omnibus," 
or a jazz program. If there are any commercials they are never too 
lazy or too lost in pot or contemplation to get up and cut out the 
sound till it's over. I have known them to deliberately pass up mer 
chandise that is advertised in favor of an unadvertised brand, regard 
less of merit. 

The Social Lie of Militarism 

To the beat generation advertising is the No. 1 shuck only because it 
is the most ubiquitous. There are others which are equally if not more 
important. There is almost universal agreement among them that mili 
tarism and war is the biggest shuck of all. As long ago as 1951 Time 
reported that among the younger generation "hardly anyone" wanted 
to go into the Army and there was "little enthusiasm for the military 
Me ... no enthusiasm for war." But the draft boards could rest easy, 
Time concluded, for when they are called "youth will serve." 72 By 
1956 Life was selling military service to the youth as "job opportuni 
ties," in line with the official posters Plan for a Brighter Future, 



THE SOCIAL LIE 297 

Learn a Trade, etc. and offering advice on how to "break it up in a 
number of ways" by serving "as little as six months at one stretch of 
active duty," by enlisting and getting a choice of duty, etc. 73 For Time 
it was still the Silent Generation, eager to conform and ready to serve. 
But the Army knew better. It knew that behind the f agade of silence 
lay a sullen resistance to soldiering and everything connected with it. 
It was not confined to any disaffiliated minority. It was quite prevalent 
among the youth in the armed services. As early as the middle forties 
Colonel (now Brigadier General) S. L. A. Marshall had called atten 
tion to it in the Infantry Journal and, in 1947, he published his findings 
in a book, Men Against Fire. 74 

He (the normal American ground soldier) is what his home, his 
religion, his schooling, and the moral code and ideals of his society 
have made him. The Army cannot unmake him. It must reckon 
with the fact that he comes from a civilization in which aggression, 
connected with the taking of life, is prohibited and unacceptable. 
The teaching and the ideals of that civilization are against killing, 
against taking advantage. The fear of aggression has been ex 
pressed to him strongly and absorbed by him so deeply and per- 
vadingly practically with his mother's milk that it is part of 
the normal man's emotional make-up. This is his great handicap 
when he enters combat. It stays his trigger finger even though he 
is hardly conscious that it is a restraint upon him. Because it is an 
emotional and not an intellectual handicap, it is not removable by 
intellectual reasoning such as: "Kill or be killed." 

The disaffiliated among the beat generation would not take issue 
with the general's premise that the teaching of our civilization is 
against killing, against taking advantage. The preaching and the teach 
ing is against it, but in practice our whole civilization is a perfect school 
for killing and taking advantage, they would tell him. 

Line commanders (the general goes on to say) pay little attention 
to the true nature of this mental block. They take it more or less 
for granted that if the man is put on such easy terms with his 
weapon in training that he "loves to fire," this is the main step 
toward surmounting the general difficulty. But it isn't as easy as 
that. A revealing light is thrown on this subject through the studies 



298 THE HOLY BAEBABIANS 

by Medical Corps psychiatrists of the combat fatigue cases in the 
European Theater. They found that fear of killing, rather than 
fear of being killed, was the most common cause of battle failure 
in the individual, and that fear of failure ran a strong second. 

It is therefore unreasonable to believe that the average and 
normally healthy individual the man who can endure the mental 
and physical stresses of combat still has such an inner and 
usually unrealized resistance toward killing a fellow man that he 
will not of his own volition take Me if it is possible to turn away 
from that responsibility. Though it is improbable that he may ever 
analyze his own feelings so searchingly as to know what is stop 
ping his own hand, his hand is nonetheless stopped. At the vital 
point, he becomes a conscientious objector, unknowing. 

The disaffiliated of the younger generation are those who are con 
scious of their objections long before they are confronted with "Kill or 
be lolled.*' They have analyzed their own feelings searchingly and 
know perfectly well what is stopping their hand. If they do not always 
make conscientious objector it is not from lack of awareness. There is 
no party line in this matter. "Pacifism is not something you talk about, 
it is not a matter of 'principle,* " they will tell you. "You don't know 
what you will do about killing or being killed till you are confronted 
with it. Pacifism isn't something you believe in or don't believe in. It 
is something you do or dorit do. It is an act, not a statement" 

But all the young men I have spoken with are doubtful that they 
could bring themselves to fire a gun if the enemy were in view, or kill 
at close quarters unless it became a question of He or I. In this, appar 
ently, they are no different from the majority. 

Now I do not think (continues the general) I have seen it stated 
in the military manuals of this age, or in any of the writings meant 
for the instruction of those who lead troops, that a commander of 
infantry will be well advised to believe that when he engages the 
enemy not more than a quarter of his men will ever strike a real 
blow unless they are compelled by almost overpowering circum 
stances or unless all junior leaders constantly "ride herd" on troops 
with, the specific mission of increasing their fire. 

The 25 per cent estimate stands even for well-trained and cam 
paign-seasoned troops. I mean that 75 per cent will not fire or will 
not persist in firing against the enemy and his works. These men 
may face the danger but they will not fight 



THE SOCIAL, LEE 299 

These figures will not come as any surprise to the men who were 
drafted for service in the Korean "police action" at about the same 
time that Time was assuring the draft boards that they would serve. 
They did, but with what results? Here are some excerpts from a report 
by Bill Davidson in Colliers of November 8, 1952. 

In pursuing the question of why soldiers don't shoot, I spoke 
with dozens of scientists, Army historians, combat commanders 
and noncommissioned officers who had just returned from the 
Korean front. Nearly all told the same story. At Fort Dix, in par 
ticular, I had a revealing series of bull sessions with a group of 
noncom heroes of the U.S. Infantry. 

"It was rough/' said Master Sergeant Nicholas Smith, of Washing 
ton, D.C., a recent Distinguished Service Cross winner in Korea. 
"Sometimes you sent a squad to cover your flank and, instead of 
nine rifles firing, you only heard two or three." 

"That's right," said Sergeant Thomas McGrath of Haddon 
Heights, New Jersey (Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart). "Of 
the nine men in my squad in Korea, I never could count on more 
than four or five to fire, even when it meant saving their own lives." 

"Time and again," said Master Sergeant John S. Williams of 
Flushing, New York (two Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars, five Purple 
Hearts), "I had to expose myself and crawl from foxhole to fox 
hole to get half of the platoon to fire. Sometimes I'd practically 
have to sight the rifle and pull the trigger for the guy." . . . One 
of the most clear-cut cases in Korea involved a platoon of the 38th 
Infantry Regiment; it had collapsed, allowing a serious enemy 
break-through. The platoon came back with virtually all its am 
munition unfired . . . Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall, who has 
been described by high Army sources as "undoubtedly knowing 
more about this subject than any other living man" . . . recently 
spent five months in the front lines in Korea analyzing Chinese 
tactics for the United Nations forces. . . . 

Marshall learned that of the more than 1,000 men in the rein 
forced battalion (the 3rd Battalion of the 165th Infantry Regiment) 
only 37 had fired their weapons. He just thought the outfit was 
green. But a few weeks later, on Chance Island in the Marshalls, 
he did a similar group investigation of a gallant action by the 
crack Reconnaissance Troop of the 7th Infantry Division. Of the 
100 men in the fight, only 14 had done all the firing that routed 
the enemy. ... I went to the University of Michigan to talk to two 



300 THE HOLY BAKBABIANS 

outstanding military psychiatrists: Dr. Raymond W. Waggoner is 
head of the university's department of psychiatry and an advisor 
on psychiatric problems of the draft to Director of Selective Ser 
vice Major Lewis B. Hershey; Dr. M. M. Frohlich is a psychiatrist 
who, as a lieutenant colonel during World War II, handled thou 
sands of combat-fatigue casualties at the 298th General Hospital. 
They cited case after case of soldiers developing actual paralysis 
on the battlefield the first time they were required to fire. 

Dr. Frohlich suggested there are at least three ways "preferably 
to be used in combination" of removing these inhibitions tem 
porarily so that soldiers will shoot. The most efficient is to prompt 
them to lose their individual identities by promoting a mob psy 
chology. People in a mob override their inhibitions and act as 
they would never dare act as individuals. A second approach is to 
make the man feel that because he's in uniform and because he's 
an integral part of a group of men he likes and respects, somehow 
it is all right to join them in setting aside one's life-long inhibitions 
against killing. The third tack is to provide a man with a father- 
like leader who, he can believe, is supremely strong, wise and 
just; so that he will accept his leader's orders to set aside tem 
porarily the taboos against killing. 

Any member of the beat generation can tell you, without any coach 
ing from a psychiatrist, that the first tack is in regular use in the South, 
among lynch mobs, but it works only where the individuals of the mob 
are sure they outnumber the quarry by at least a hundred to one, some 
thing you cannot always promise the men on the firing line. Something 
of the sort was tried, nevertheless, by trying to make out the enemy 
to be "niggers'* of a sort "gooks" was the name for it in the Korean 
War; in World War II it was "them little brown monkeys" on the 
Pacific front. 

The second approach is to be found in its most successful form 
among the juvenile delinquent gangs. And the third tack was the one 
used with the S. S. elite guard by Hitler and with the Red Army by 
Stalin. 

The most dramatic innovation has been talking-it-up the yell 
ing in combat which has accompanied many of our most heroic 
actions in Korea. . . . "Let 'em holler," Marshall advocated. . . . 
"The yelling . . . can stir up chain reactions that will convert lambs 
into lions on the battlefield." 



THE SOCIAL LIE 301 

Grant Flemming, home on Christmas furlough from basic training, 
had this comment to make on the way Marshall's TLet 'em holler" 
training technique was working out in the year 1958. 

"In bayonet practice we are told to make the bloodthirstiest sounds 
we can with every thrust. Every now and then the sergeant yells 
'What's the spirit of the bayonet?* and we're supposed to yell back 
To kill/ 1 try to get away without saying it and so do some of the other 
boys, and when we do we smile to each other when we do it. Like it's 
just a shuck and we make a joke out of it. Then again they'll turn it 
the other way around. They'll tell us that the aim of warfare is not to 
kill but to take enemy-held ground, and to think of the enemy positions 
as the enemy trying to depersonalize and dehumanize the act of 
killing. They tried that in Korea, too. Some of the re-enlisted men at 
the base went through the Korean action and they tell me that what 
they did was keep firing their rifles in the air just to make a noise to 
satisfy their commanding officers." 

After three months of basic, much of the time spent in the hospital 
with ailments that may well be diagnosed as plain malingering, the 
Army was satisfied to transfer Grant to a medical unit. "Now it's 
round-about-face for me. Instead of learning how to destroy life I am 
learning how to save it. How that is going to work out under fire, if it 
ever comes to that for me, I don't know. It will probably turn out to be 
the same old shuck." 

A somewhat older disaffiliate, who describes himself as a veteran of 
World War II and who also served his country for a few days in the 
county jail, turned up in Venice West for a visit and left with me an 
interesting document of his own version of pacifism as a revolutionary, 
nonviolence resistance movement. 

It is a Questionnaire for a Peacemaker (one of the pacifist organiza 
tions ) Directory and Personal Resources File which he filled out After 
giving his name, address, birth date and other information, he answered 
the remaining questions in this fashion: 

6. Present vocation (specific description): 

Fanning flames of discontent, translating, arguing, speaking. 

7. Past employment (specific descriptions): Helped to load junk on 
and off junk wagon as employee; junked as self-employed paper 
boy; collector of charges for newspaper delivery; cleaned desks 
and helped (?) mechanical drawing students as NYA worker; loaded 



302 THE HOLY BARBAKIANS 

mail bags on skiffs; cleaned canning machines; peeled carrots; 
loaded cans on conveyor belts; shoveled coal; domestic work 
(cleaned floors, waxed furniture, etc.); taught the alphabet; pic 
keted for union. 

8. Education (how long: where: subjects): 

B.A. June 1952, Roosevelt College. Sociology major, Psych minor. 

9. Skills not being used in vocation at present: 
Student skills, if any, are not being used. 

10. Avocational interests and skills: 

Table tennis, swimming and digging the sound. 

11. Eventual vocational aims: 

Are you kidding? What can one plan for under threat of global 
thermonuclear war? 

12. Do you own your own home? No. Rent? Sort of. Live with rela 
tives? Yes. 

13. Do you own a car? No. Truck? No. Farm machinery? No. Tools 
and machines needed in vocation? Describe: 

Pen (preferably ball point) note and address book, English diction 
ary, more dictionaries, paper, carrying case, literature, envelopes, 
stamps, chewing gum . . . 

14. Do you have room in your home and are you willing to put up 
traveling Peacemakers? (State any limitations as to time, space, 
finances, etc.): 

My brother Joe has not very long ago returned from Lexington, 
ICy., where he kicked the habit. He is using the extra bed until he 
can get back on his feet. Ergo, no room for traveling Peacemaker 
(at this writing). 

15. Are you or were you a draft refuser? Yes. GPS? No. Prison? No. 
(Give details): I refused to register in 1948; automatically regis 
tered in 1950; publicly burned classification card (5-A) and ques 
tionnaire in July 1951; I am a veteran of 1941-45 war. (However, 
I did spend a few days in County Jail in Dec. 1943, occasioned by 
unwillingness to report for induction. I did not go to big house 
because I lacked courage to follow thru on convictions.) 

16. If over draft age or a woman, do you openly counsel draft re 
fusal? Yes. Does your spouse? I reject compulsory monogamous 
mating. Affirm free love. Tend toward the sexual revolution theories 
of Wilhelm Reich. 



THE SOCIAL LIE 303 

17. Are you a tax refuser? No, too poor. Would you be if your income 
were large enough? Yes. If your taxes were not withheld at sources, 
etc? Yes. I cut out movies two or three years ago in order to avoid 
the treasury contribution collected at the box office. 

18. In what activities do you participate in your local community? 
(PTA, labor union, Farm Bureau, Rotary Club, church, pacifist 
groups, etc.) 

Peacemakers, CORE, IWW socials and picnics, Liberation Social 
ist Comm; Washington Park Forum. And when afforded, the wild 
life at Whitman House. 

19. Do you consider yourself permanently settled in your present com 
munity, or are you willing to or actively interested in moving else 
where? 

Am considering moving off a target such as Chicago to some place 
of no strategic value. (A non-violent revolution can alter this per 
spective.) 

20. Would you be interested in joining a Peacemaker Unit of a perma 
nent type? Possibly. Of a training type? Possibly. (Give details): 
Am not altogether sure what all this may involve, but do have 
predilection for this sort of thing. See Ques. 19. 

21. Are you interested in any particular state or region in this country? 
The unexplored wilds of Idaho. See Ques. 19. 

A foreign country? 

Lower California. See Ques. 19. Would be interested in southern 
Chile for same reason, only I don't know how I would get there 
since I don't believe in asking State for permission to travel. 

22. Do you prefer to live in a rural area? Small town? Small city? 
Large city? 

Used to large city. Don't know about other places, tho I expect 
they might be boring. 

23. In what types of Peacemaker activity are you most interested and 
do you consider yourself most fitted to participate? 
Interested in Direct Action, violating national boundaries, law- 
breaking aspects of Peacemaker activity. 

24. Do you live in or are you interested in living in a status of "vol 
untary poverty?" A communal set-up where all assets, income are 
pooled and funds for needs taken from common purse? 

I do live in a condition of poverty which is probably voluntary, 



304 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

since I have not been seeking work. I might be too extravagant to 
fit in successfully in a wholly communistic set-up tho I am willing 
to try it. 

25. Do you feel personally able to live communally with a group of 
other families and individuals, perhaps in the same house? Or do 
you feel you and your family need private living quarters? 

Me and my "family" have no need of private living quarters, which 
is to say, I would live communally, sans family, as it does not share 
my views enough. 

26. Do you belong to some mutual aid group or have you definite 
plans for your family in case you are sent to prison? No. 

27. If both you and your wife were sent to prison, what would you 
do or want to do with your children? 

See Ques. 16. As for children, I imagine they would be left to the 
vicissitudes of the American Way of Life, if there were no Peace 
maker provision for them. 

28. Any additional information which would be of value to Peace 
maker committees and to individual members: 

I am anarchist I think the correct response to arrest is to go limp 
and make no distinctions between being arrested and being 
drafted. Am vet of WW II. I regard myself as a stateless person 
of the world, cosmopolitan. I make no distinction between anar 
chism and (the non-violent type of) pacifism. 

29. Comments on present Peacemaker program, your part in that pro 
gram: 

The Peacemaker publication is very disappointing to say the 
least and the kindest. It does not nearly enough reflect the aggres 
siveness, intransigeance, non-conformity and subversiveness that 
one should expect from a revolutionary pacifist movement. There 
is too much God, too much law, and too much World Government. 
There are too many lifts from Peace News and other publications 
and not enough "internal discussion." Peacemakers should forge 
toward a bootleg economic system in order to circumvent hidden 
taxes. Taxation as such should be rejected on non-violent grounds. 

Our visitor I am sure he will reject this anonymity and I am 
doubly sure he would resent any pseudonymity was dressed as near 
to Gandhian simplicity as the weather permitted, carrying all his pos- 



THE SOCIAL LIE 305 

sessions in a cloth shopping bag. He asked for nothing and accepted 
only simple refreshment. Holy, but no barbarian, he presented the clas 
sical picture of the lean, weather-beaten, ascetic desert-prophet of the 
Bible illustrators. Your true holy barbarian is no ascetic. Some of the 
answers in the Questionnaire will be better understood by the reader 
if he bears in mind that the minority status of my visitor is further 
complicated by the fact that he is a Negro. How the practice of "going 
limp" on arrest works out in practice the reader can judge for himself 
by the pictures he has seen in the press from time to time of Direct 
Action war resisters being carried off limp by policemen and military 
guards from missile-launching sites and other military installations 
where they were staging a nonviolent protest demonstration. They 
measure their success by the amount of publicity such actions pro 
duce, depending on the power of action and example rather than 
principles and manifestoes. 

They do not altogether disdain the power of the word, however. One 
such resister, Albert Bofman of Chicago, carries on a constant letters- 
to-the-editor campaign and reports the most astonishing results in a 
mimeographed letter that he sends to anyone requesting it. These let 
ters sometimes run to ten or twelve single-spaced, legal-size pages and 
contain news of pacifist activities all over the world, the latest figures 
on war appropriations, digests of election platforms of all parties and 
reams of other information of use to war resisters and their friends and 
sympathizers. These letters differ from other such literature in the 
modesty of their requests for contributions. "Unused postage stamps 
acceptable" is the usual request, and the prices of the pamphlets they 
offer are rarely over a nickel or a dime. Bofman reports publication of 
his "letters to the editor" in hundreds of newspapers, some of them 
among the most reactionary in the country. Editors of such Vox Pop 
columns are, as everyone knows, very liberal in what they accept for 
publication. It all comes under the heading of human interest, I sup 
pose. 75 

Nonviolent war resisters like my visitor are received hospitably in 
beat generation circles and treated with respect as disaffiliates who are 
wise to the social lie of war and militarism and practitioners of the 
dedicated independent poverty. In some respects they are regarded as 
squares. Their asceticism does not go with the Dionysian love of life 
that the beat cultivate. Their religion, though anticlerical in some cases, 



306 THE HOLY BAEBABIANS 

is in the main churchly. The conscientious objector among the beat 
may base his objections on religious grounds but not as a member of 
any church, A few have won their cases in the courts on such grounds, 
although the law does state that church membership is required as 
ground for exemption. 

The Social Lie of Politics 

That the typical member of the beat generation does not regard him 
self as a citizen in the usual meaning of that term is clear from all 
my observations and interviews. He does not value his right to vote, 
although he would be opposed to any move to take it away from those 
who do. His attitude toward the ballot is simply that it is usually mean 
ingless; it does not present such vital issues as war and peace to the 
voter nor give him any voice in or control over such important 
matters as wages, prices, rents, and only the most indirect and ineffec 
tive control over taxation. His choices at the polls are limited by such 
tricky devices as conventions, gerrymandering, legal restrictions on 
party representation on the ballot, to say nothing of boss rule, back 
room deals and big campaign contributions. Elections are rigged, he 
will tell you, and the whole political game is a shuck. 

He does not have to spend a dime for a newspaper or waste reading 
time in order to document his thesis that politics is a social lie. All he 
has to do is glance at the headlines as he passes the newsstand. Or listen 
to any five-minute summary of the news on the radio. Or the plainest 
giveaway of all look at the face and listen to the voice of any office- 
seeking politician on television. As for national conventions on tele 
vision, the spectacle is too much for even the squares to take. They 
tuned out by the millions on the last convention broadcasts. 

A beatnik busted for smoking pot could entertain you for hours 
about the lawbreaking of the lawmakers. And the law enforcers. For 
an apolitical he often displays a surprising knowledge of the above- 
the-law, around-the-law and against-the-law activities of policemen 
and politicians. 

All the vital decisions, he will tell you, are beyond the control of the 
electorate, so why go to the polls? The decision makers and the taste 
makers are nonelective and nonappointive. They elect themselves and 
their ballot is the dollar. Moneytheism is not only a religion but a 



THE SOCIAL LEE 307 

form of Realpolttik. The moves of power politicians, once covert, are 
now open. Even the businessman in politics no longer feels constrained 
to mask his motives or his methods. More and more the show goes on 
the boards without props and without disguises. 

The voter has no control over the uses to which atomic energy is 
being put by the businessman and the politician. Cold wars are 
launched without declaration and are well under way in the Pentagon 
and the State Department before he is told that they are even con 
templated. The war machine is fed billions without any by-your-leave 
on the ballot He is presented with a choice between a general with a 
folksy grin and a governor with an egghead vocabulary. Voting be 
comes a mass ritual, but an empty one without any art or healing in it. 
It was once a kind of popular revel at least, a saturnalia on a low 
and vulgar level, with whisky for a libation and broken bottles in place 
of phallic ikons. But even that is now forbidden, thanks to the prohi 
bitionists who have made Election Day their last stand and only na 
tional triumph. 

The voter, the beat generation will tell you, does not have any con 
trol even over the air he breathes. What's good for General Motors is 
proving to be poisonous for the American air. And what's good for the 
defense industries, and is conned up to look good in the employment 
statistics, is proving poisonous to the atmosphere of the whole globe. 
"Have you had your Strontium 90 today?" is a greeting you will hear 
any morning among the beat. 

The list of shucks that the disafflliate can reel off for you would take 
many pages to repeat here. A few, on which there is more or less 
unanimous agreement, will have to suffice. 

First in order is the shuck of war, hot or cold, and the "defense" in 
dustries that are maintained to feed and perpetuate it, which the beat 
call Murder, Incorporated. 

A close second is the shuck of "business ethics" and the morality of 
the businessman, the wide profit margin between his pretensions and 
his practices. Even the youngest among the beat generation are thor 
oughly familiar with the call girl sell, for instance, the bedroom bribery 
by which the businessmen bribe (and blackmail) buyers to the tune of 
millions of dollars. The older ones among the beat have not forgotten 
the cost-plus racket on defense contracts that created bulging bank 
accounts for the new war millionaires while the boys were fighting a 



308 THE HOLY BARBABIANS 

battle of another kind of bulge in the Ardennes and planting Old Glory 
on a hilltop on Iwo Jiina. 

Another widely recognized shuck is the "Our" shuck. Our national 
safety . . . our natural resources . . . our railroads . . . our security . . . 
our national honor . . . our foreign trade . . . our annual income . . . our 
representative in Congress . . . our side of the iron curtain . . . It's ours 
when it's our sweat and blood they want, but it's theirs when it comes 
to the profits, the beat will tell you. 

They didn't need Philip Wylie to tell them about the shuck of 
Momism or Popism, either. Academicism was an open book to them 
long before it became a theme for faculty exposes in novels and what's- 
wrong-with-our-educational-system articles in magazines. 

All of these shucks, and many more, are known to millions. The dif 
ference between the beatnik and the square is that the beatnik acts 
on his knowledge and tries to avoid the avoidable contagions. 

"Cynical" is a word that the sensation-mongering newspaper and 
magazine writers like to tag onto their stories about the beat genera 
tion. If the beatnik lives in a state of voluntary poverty, he isn't being 
sincere about it how can anybody turn down a buck? so he must 
be cynical. If he turns his back on the installment-slavery of Madison 
Avenue's "engineered public consent" and phony "customer demand" 
propaganda, and tries to do without kitchen machinery and keep off the 
car-a-year pay-and-trade-in treadmill, he isn't being sincere about it. 
How can he be? He must be cynical, just trying to put on a show of 
superiority by sneering at all the things that make life really worth 
living and which he secretly yearns for but hasn't got the get-up-and- 
go to acquire for himself. .That is the "party line" and you will find 
some form of it in all the mass circulation magazines and newspapers 
whenever they refer to the subject. 

Another gambit of the mass circulation media is: They just don't 
like to work. Out of perhaps a hundred beatniks there may be one, 
usually an artist, who is so ridden by the Muse that he is utterly unfit 
for any steady job and tries to make it any way he can without having 
to punch a time clock. The other ninety-nine are not artists. They chose 
"the life" because they like it better than what Squareville has to offer. 
They work, full time or part time, but without any of that good old 
stick-to-itivness and never-watch-the-clock devotion that was the slogan 
of the boomtime twenties and ended for the go-getters in breadlines 



THE SOCIAL LIE 309 

and apple-peddling. The beatnik of today who adopts the dedicated 
poverty is simply honoring the old Polish proverb: He who sleeps on 
the floor has no fear of falling out of bed. 

In a society geared to the production of murderous hardware and 
commodities with built-in obsolescence for minimum use at maximum 
prices on an artificially stimulated mass consumption basis, poverty by 
choice is subversive and probably a sin against Jesus Christ who was, 
according to Bruce Barton, the first Great Salesman. It makes monkeys 
out of all the soft-soap-sell radio newscasters and commentators who 
slip so glibly from the horror tales of the mushroom cloud and death 
on the freeways into the fairy tales of Success by hair oil and Beauty 
by mud pack, thrill points, homogenized beauty cream or whatever the 
latest shuck happens to be. It is no wonder, then, that simple-living 
beatniks come in for vicious tongue-lashings by hucksters posing as 
reporters and pundits. 

It is the voice of Business speaking. Business has its song of Prosper 
ity Unlimited to sing while it picks your pockets, and the razzberry 
obligate of the holy barbarians and their dedicated poverty is a jarring 
note. 

The editorials and the ads and the speechmakers keep telling youth 
that the world is his, the future is his, and in the next breath cries out 
with alarm that "the other side" is plotting to blow up the world with 
hydrogen bombs. The holy barbarian's answer to all this can be 
summed up in the remark of Itchy Dave Gelden when he dropped in 
one day with an evangelist leaflet that some "christer" had shoved into 
his hand, announcing that the world was coming to an end 

"Whose world is coming to an end?" 

Not the holy barbarian's. 



Notes 



1. See In Secret Batik, a novel by Lawrence Lipton (D. Appleton-Century Co., 
New York). 

2. Songs by Earl Robinson (Alco Records, Hollywood). 

3. D. T. Suzuki, Zen Buddhism: Sekcted Writings of D. T. Suzuki, edited by 
William Barrett (Anchor Books, New York). 

4. Chicago Review. See particularly Autumn-Winter, 1956, "The Hour of Man" 
by Henry Miller, 

5. archie and mehitabel: A Back Alky Drama, narrated by David Wayne, fea 
turing Carol Charming and Eddie Bracken, based on stories of Don Marquis 
(Columbia Records, ML 4963). 

6. Dexter Martin, "D. H. Lawrence and Pueblo Religion," Arizona Quarterly, 
Autumn, 1953. 

7. Branislaw Malinowski, Magic, Science and Religion (Anchor Books, New 
York). 

8. E. Doutte, "Magie et religion dans FAfrique du Nord," from The Myth of the 
State by Ernst Cassirer (Anchor Books, New York). 

9. Time, September 26, 1955. 

10. Alan W. Watts, The Way of Zen (Pantheon Books, Inc., New York). By per 
mission of the publisher. 

11. Allen Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems (City Lights Books, San Francisco). 

12. Watts, op. cit. 

13. Ibid, "According to tradition," says Watts, "the originator of Taoism, Lao-tze, 
was an older contemporary of Kung fu-tze, or Confucius, who died in 479 
B.C. Lao-tze is said to have been the author of the Tao Te Ching, a short 
book of aphorisms, setting forth the principles of the Tao and its power or 
virtue (Te). But traditional Chinese philosophy ascribes both Taoism and 
Confucianism to a still earlier source, to a work which lies at the very founda 
tion of Chinese thought and culture, dating anywhere from 3000 to 1200 B.C. 
This is the I Ching, or Book of Changes." 

14. Michael McClure, "Peyote Poem," Semma 3. 

15. Coastlines, No. 10, Spring-Summer 1958. 

16. Wendel C. Bennett and Robert M. Zingg, Tarahumara, An Indian Tribe of 
Northern Mexico (The University of Chicago Press, Chicago). 

17. Ginsberg, op. cit. 

18. The Mayor's Committee on Marihuana, Marihuana Ptobkms (The Jacques 
Cattell Press, Lancaster, Pa.). 

19. Patrick Mullahy, Oedipus, Myth and Compkx, A Review of Psychoanalytic 
Theory (Grove Press, New York). 

20. Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pkasure Principk (The Hogarth Press, Ltd. and 
Institute of Psycho-Analysis, London). 

311 



312 THE HOLY BARBARIANS 

21. Kenneth. Rexroth, ed., The New British Poets: An Anthology (New Directions, 
New York). 

22. The New York Times Book Review, September 2, 1956. 

23. Lawrence Lipton, Rainbow at Midnight (The Golden Quill Press, Frances- 
town, NJEL). 

24. Rudi Blesh, Shining Trumpets (Alfred A. Knopf, New York). 

25. Joseph "King" Oliver, Doctor Jazz (Melrose Music Corporation, New York). 

26. Blesh, op. tit. 

27. Lawrence Lipton, A Funky Blues for all Squares, Creeps and Cornballs. Un 
published. 

28. Helen Waddefl, The Wandering Scholars (Anchor Books, New York). Also 
Carl Orff, Carmina Burana (Decca Records, DL 9706). 

29. Downbeat, December 11, 1958. 

30. Ginsberg, op. tit. 

31. Rgon Wellesz, Arnold Schonberg (E. P. Dutton & Co., New York). 

32. Jazz Canto: Vol. I, An Anthology of Poetry and Jazz (World Pacific Records, 
WP1244). 

33. Henry Miller, Black Spring (Obelisk Press, Paris). 

34. Edmund Carpenter, "The New Languages," Explorations, No. 7, March, 1957. 

35. Jack Kerouac, The Subterraneans (Grove Press, New York). 

36. J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Eye (Little, Brown & Co., Boston). 

37. George Mandel, Flee the Angry Strangers (The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 
Indianapolis). 

38. William Carlos Williams, Pater son (New Directions, New York). 

39. Stuart Z. Perkoff, from The Venice Poems. Unpublished. 

40. Stuart Z. Perkoff, On Unloading a Boxcar. Unpublished. 

41. William Carlos Williams, Kora in Hell (City Lights Books, San Francisco). 

42. Watts, op. tit. 

43. Charles Olson, "The Lordly and Isolate Satyrs," Evergreen Review, No. 4. 

44. Ginsberg, op. tit. "Sunflower Sutra." 

45. Kenneth Patchen, Shadows and Spring Flowers (Padell, New York). 

46. Gregory Corso, Gasoline (City Lights Books, San Francisco). 

47. Cecil Collins, The Vision of the Fool (The Grey Walls Press, Ltd., London). 

48. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, A Coney Island of the Mind (New Directions, New 
York). 

49. Collins, op. tit. 

50. Alan W. Watts, Beat Zen, Square Zen and Zen ( City Lights Books, San Fran 
cisco). 

51. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, "Dog," Pictures of the Gone World (City Lights 
Books, San Francisco). Also on Jazz Canto: Vol. I. 

52. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, A Coney Island of the Mind. 

53. James Broughton, True and Falso Unicorn (Grove Press, New York). 

54. Lawrence Lipton, Rainbow at Midnight. 

55. E, R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Beacon Press, Boston). 

56. Ginsberg, op. tit. 

57. Allen Ginsberg, "Siesta in Xbalba," Evergreen Review, No. 4. 

58. D. T. Suzuki, op. tit. 

59. Gary Snyder, "What I Think When I Meditate," Ark III (San Francisco). 

60. Charles Foster, Preliminary Report on Rerum Naturem. Unpublished. 

61. John Clellon Holmes, The Horn (Random House, New York). 

62. John Clellon Holmes, Go (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York). 

63. Charles Foster, "The Troubled Makers," Evergreen Review, No. 4. 

64. Watts, op. tit. 

65. Watts, op. tit. 

66. Woody Woodward, Jazz Americana (Trend Books, Los Angeles). 



NOTES 313 

67. Frederick Lewis Allen, Preface to Only Jester day (Bantam Books, New York). 

68. Frederick Lewis Allen, The Big Change (Harper & Brothers, New York). 

69. Newsweek, November 24, 1958. 

70. Ibid. 

71. From Lawrence Lipton's tape-recorded interview with Kenneth Rexroth. 

72. Time, November 5, 1951. 

73. Life, May 14, 1956. 

74. S. L. A. Marshall, Men Against Fire (William Morrow & Company, New 
York). By permission of the publisher. 

75. Bofrnan's Telegram "To: Peacemakers and Overtaxed Americans" is issued 
from A. Bofman, 6327 South May Street, Chicago 21, Illinois. 



Glossary 



Ax Any musical instrument. 

BALL As a noun, a good time; as a verb, sexual intercourse. 

BENNIES Affectionate diminutive for Benzedrine pills. 

BLOW To sound (see Sound), to give voice to by word, music or any 

aural means. 
BREAD Money, as in "Could you lay some bread on me?" meaning 

lend or give some money. 
BUFF (also aficionado) An authority on jazz. 
BUGGED Bothered, bedeviled, unstrung. 
BUSTED Apprehended by the Heat (police). Only a cat is "busted"; a 

square is "arrested." 

CAT The swinging, sex-free, footloose, nocturnal, uninhibited, non 
conformist genus of the human race. 
CHICK Just what you think it means. 
COOL Said of anything that sends you, whether cool jazz or a cool 

chick unless you like 'em hot (see Hot). 
CONNECTION Contact man for drugs. 
COP our To settle down, go conventional, in the sense of "sell out" 

or "cop a plea." In some circles you may be charged with copping 

out if you shave off your beard. 
CRAZY Anything from mild to wild that meets with a cat's approval. 

"Dig that crazy short." (see Short) 
Cur OUT To take one's leave. 
DEALER Drug-seller, pusher. 

315 



316 THE HOLY BABBARIANS 

DIG Understand, appreciate, listen to, approve of, enjoy, do you dig 

ine, man? 
DRAG A bore, disappointment. A political convention is a big drag. 

An evening with squares is a sad drag (see Drugg). 
DRUGG Brought down from a high (see High). Depressed, bored, 

frustrated, blah. 

DYKE A highpower Lesbian. Variants: deisel-dyke, bull-dyke. 
FAG Short for faggot, as in "flaming faggot/' A male homosexual. 
FALL BST Arrive, show up, make the scene. 
FALL our Pass out from an overdose of drugs. 

FAB our If it sends you and you go, you may swing far out, if no one 
bugs you and you get drugg or go too far out and flip your wig. 
Also avant-garde, on the experimental frontiers of any art or expe 
rience. 

Fix A shot of heroin or some other drug. 

FOP Anything from a fit of high enthusiasm to a stretch in the laugh 
ing academy (mental institution). 
FRANTIC Frenzied. Anything from hot pants to holy vision or any 

combination thereof. 

FROM IN FRONT First. From the beginning. 

FUNKY Old French, funicle, terrible. Latin, phreneticus (see Frantic). 
In the forties, Mezz Mezzrow defined it as stench, smelly, ob 
noxious. Today it means "that happy-sad feeling," according to 
some jazz musicians. 
GANG-SHAG The principle of the car pool or the common dish applied 

to sexual intercourse. 
GAS Supreme, tops, the most. A gasser. 
GAY BOY Homosexual. 

GET WITH rr Comprehend, understand, participate, dig? 
GIG Any gainful enployment, as distinguished from work (see Work). 
GIMP (gimpy) Lame. 
Go When you're swinging you feel sent and when you're sent you 

Go! (see Gone) 
GONE - The most, the farthest out. If you go far out enough you're 

gone - "out of this world/' 
GROOVE -As in groovey and "in the groove," meaning on the beat, 

swinging. A hip chick is a groovey chick. 
HEAD A marijuana user, pot head. 

HIGH- In euphoric state, whether from drugs, alcohol, esthetic ecstasy 
or sex. 

HIP - To know, in the sense of having experienced something. A hip 



GLOSSARY 317 

cat has experiential knowledge. A hip square has merely heard or 

read about it. 

HIPSTER One who is in the know. A cool cat. 
HOLDING To have marijuana or other drugs in your possession. 
HORSE Heroin. Also called H, and in some circles, affectionately, shit. 
HOT Said of anything that sends you whether a hot lick (jazz) or a 

hot chick unless you're a cool cat. 
HUSTLE To engage in any gainful employment (see Gig). 
HYPE A heroin user. A contraction of hypodermic. 
JOINT A place, a penis, a marijuana cigarette, preferably a combina 
tion of all three. 

LAY To give, as in "Lay some bread on me." 
LATER When you're ready to leave the pad you cut out and say, 

"Later." 
LIKE The theory of relativity applied to reality. "Like that's your 

reality, man." 
MAKE To act, as in "make the scene/' To "make it" may be said of 

anything that succeeds, whether a dental appointment or a crazy 

chick. 

NOWHERE If you're not with it, you're nowhere (see With it). 
O.D. An overdose of drugs. 
PAD A cat's home is his pad. 
PICK XJP ON Get hip to, understand, appreciate. 
POT (or pod) Marijuana. Also called tea and at various times and 

places, muta, muggles, the weed. 
PUSH Sell, handle or purvey drugs. Pusher. 
RELATE (to) Establish mental and emotional contact with a person, 

communicate. 

ROACH A small butt of marijuana. 
SCENE The world and the lifeways of the beat generation. To "make 

the scene" is to fit in, to be accepted. 
SHACK XJP To cohabit, in every sense and sex of the word. 
SHORT A small, foreign sports car. 

SHUCK As a noun, a falsehood, deception, fraud; as a verb, to de 
ceive, swindle or defraud. I wouldn't shuck you, man. 
SLAM Jail. Also slammer. 
SOUND To voice an opinion, recite a poem. To inquire, as in "I 

sounded the cat was he holding." 
SPADE CAT Negro. The holy barbarians, white and negro, are so far 

beyond "racial tolerance" and desegregation that they no longer 

have to be polite about it with one another. 



318 THE HOLY BABBABIANS 

SPLIT As in Tve got to split," a form of leave talcing. 

SQUABE Conformist, Organization Man, solid citizen, anyone who 

doesn't swing and isn't with it Also called Creep and CornbaU. 

Man, if you still don't dig me, you'll never be anything but 
STONED High, loaded. 
SWINGING Liberated, uninhibited, Like if you don't swing that thing 

it don't mean a thing. 
TDKN ON To get high. To introduce somebody to anything, as in "He 

turned me on to Zen." 
WITH rr If you're in the know you're with it. If you ain't with it man, 

you ain't nowhere no how. 
WIG The mind, as in "wig out" or "flip your wig," meaning out of 

your mind. 
WOKK Sexual intercourse (see Gig). 



Venice West Picture Essay 



FOOTNOTES FOR PICTURE ESSAY 

a. Painter Arthur Richer and family. 

b. Poet-painter Charles Newman. 

c. Poet-painter Stuart Z. Perkoff. 

d. Painter-sculptor Ben Talbert and wife. 

e. Rahmat Jamal, drums, Abdul Karim, piano, Everett Evans, bass, Paul Freidin, 
Alto sax, Jerome Lindsay, trumpet. 

f . Poet Cythea Harrison. 

g. Poet-publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti in front of his City Lights Bookshop in 
San Francisco. 

h. Painter Anthony Scibella and friends. 

i. Painter-sculptor Ben Talbert. 

j. Left to Right, novelist Michael Wilson, Ben Talbert, and painter Donald Jones. 

k. Stuart Z. Perkoff. 




a real beat generation 
coffeehouse that tourists 
haven't discovered yet. . . . 



in Venice West, 

"slum by the sea". . . 

old Venice imitated 

n iron pipe and plaster 

. . . peeling now. . . . 



where a disaffiliated, dedicated 
poverty is a way of life in the 
pads of the holy barbarians. . . . a 




on the banks of 

green-scum-covered 

canals spanned by wooden 

footbridges. . . . 





or in store-front pads where ANTON 

anything with a paintable surface 
is the artist's canvas. . . . b 




ANTON 

and anything, including nuts and 

bolts, is material for 

"junk sculpture". . . . c 



and the poet stands up to his 
typewriter on a packing case . . . 
amid today's wash and 
yesterday's dishes. . . . 



or listens with rapt attention to 
jazz on the hi-fi. . . . d 



ANTON 




ANTON 





or beats out his own rhythms on 
the conga drums, like Dionysus in 
the Greek Bacchanalia. . . . 



and makes a ritual of listening 
to the jazz combo. . . . 




with poetry and jazz in a new 
holy reunion of the arts. . . . f 




and reads all the banned books, 
old and new from Boccaccio to 
Henry Miller 9 



creating a "new apocalypse" 

of [azz-inspired poetry and prose 

and painting. . . . 



A quiet game of chess, conversation, 
or contemplation. ... . 



ANTON 





to which "art is love is God" 
is the key equation. . . . h 





or a session with 
the conga drums. . . . 




ANTON 



ANTON 

or listening to a poetry reading 
is all part of "making the scene." 




t The painter-sculptor, planning a 
Crucifixion piece, contemplates 
|V '' . his theme by ''reliving" it ' 



and relaxes with friends afterwar 
in a fellow painter's pad. . . . 




ANTON 




The children of the holy barbarians 
grow up in the pads unashamed of 
nakedness . . . surrounded by 
love and simple living 



ANTON 





CLAXTON 
Jazz Canto in the Cosmo Alley 
coffee shop. 



is a listening experience of ritual, 
and religious intensity. . . . 



CLAXTON 




and inspires the painter-poet who 
listens to music on records while 
he views his unfinished canvas 



ANTON 



in the world of jazz, as in the pads, 

racial integration is taken 

for granted on all levels of 

human intercourse 




the joy of life is celebrated 
in wine, , . . 



ANTON 



and in poetry as a living, breathh 
art for the human voice. .. 




Kenneth Patchen . . - "O where can 
the heart of man be comforted. 



REDL 

Robert Duncan . . . 
'transform the audience." 




[enneth Rexroth . . . "what holds 
i natural society together 
& an all-pervading Eros." 



SKEETZ 

4 6 1 



REDL 
Henry Miller . . . 
everything is barbarious again" 




fii 



108025